Information from CDC


Clinical Features Human anthrax has three major clinical forms: cutaneous, inhalation, and gastrointestinal. Cutaneous anthrax is a result of introduction of the spore through the skin; inhalation anthrax, through the respiratory tract; and gastrointestinal anthrax, by ingestion.
Etiologic Agent Bacillus anthracis, the etiologic agent of anthrax, is a large, gram-positive, nonmotile, spore-forming bacterial rod. The three virulence factors of B. anthracis are edema toxin, lethal toxin and a capsular antigen. B. anthracis is considered to be a likely agent for use in acts of biological terrorism.
Incidence In the United States, incidence is extremely low. Gastrointestinal anthrax is rare but may occur as explosive outbreaks associated with ingestion of infected animals. Worldwide, the incidence is unknown, though B. anthracis is present in most of the world.
Sequelae If untreated, anthrax in all forms can lead to septicemia and death. Early treatment of cutaneous anthrax is usually curative, and early treatment of all forms is important for recovery. Patients with gastrointestinal anthrax have reported case- fatality rates ranging from 25% to 75%. Case-fatality rates for inhalational anthrax are thought to approach 90 to 100%.
Transmission For humans, the source of infection in naturally acquired disease is infected livestock and wild animals or contaminated animal products. Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare and only reported with cutaneous anthrax.
Risk Groups Cutaneous anthrax is the most common manifestation of infection with B. anthracis. Inhalation (pulmonary) anthrax occurs in persons working in certain occupations where spores may be forced into the air from contaminated animal products, such as animal hair processing. Occupational risk groups include those coming into contact with livestock or products from livestock, e.g., veterinarians, animal handlers, abattoir workers, and laboratorians.
Surveillance For both livestock and humans, anthrax is a notifiable disease in the United States.
Trends Among humans, there has been no increase in naturally acquired infection in the United States. Recently, considerable attention has been focused on the potential for B. anthracis to be used in acts of biologic terrorism.
Challenges Because B. anthracis has a high probability for use as an agent in biologic terrorism, CDC is expanding epidemiologic and diagnostic laboratory capacities and technologies. This capacity building, includes local and state health department training. In addition, there are gaps in our understanding of the immunology of anthrax and protection against anthrax via vaccination. Also, post-exposure prophylaxis against anthrax requires further investigation.
Opportunities Identify, transfer to CDC laboratories, test, and improve as needed, rapid diagnostic technologies developed for rapid identification of B. anthracis in Department of Defense (DoD) laboratories.

December 2000

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Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guide only.   This information is offered to you with the understanding that it not be interpreted as medical or professional advice.  All medical information needs to be carefully reviewed with your health care provider.