Anthrax

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How is anthrax contracted?

Anthrax can infect humans in three ways. The most common is infection through the skin, which causes an ugly, dark sore. Humans and animals can ingest anthrax from carcasses of dead animals that have been contaminated with anthrax. Ingestion of anthrax can cause serious, sometimes fatal disease. The most deadly form is inhalation anthrax. If the spores of anthrax are inhaled, they migrate to lymph glands in the chest where they proliferate, spread, and produce toxins that often cause death.

How common is anthrax? What are risk factors for anthrax infection?

Anthrax is now rare in humans in the United States and developed countries. It still occurs today, largely in countries lacking public-health regulations that prevent exposure to infected goats, cattle, sheep, and horses and their products. In the last few years, there have been rare cases of anthrax in people exposed to imported animal hides used to make drums. Drum players, drum makers, and their family members have been infected in this way. The major concern for those of us in western countries (who don't play drums) is the use of anthrax as an agent of biological warfare. Individuals who are at higher risk to become infected with anthrax include

  • veterinarians,
  • livestock producers and farmers,
  • travelers to areas where anthrax is endemic,
  • handlers of animal products (for example, animal hides),
  • laboratory personnel that study anthrax, and
  • mail handlers, military personnel, and individuals trained to respond to bioterrorists and/or biological warfare.

How long is the incubation period with anthrax?

The incubation period (the period between contact with anthrax and the start of symptoms) may be relatively short, from one to five days. Like other infectious diseases, the incubation period for anthrax is quite variable and it may be weeks before an infected individual feels sick.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/19/2016

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