Anthrax is a disease of animals or people caused by a bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax occurs naturally in the soil where it can last for many years. The disease is most often found in cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores, but humans can also get this disease if they are exposed to infected animals or their tissues.
Anthrax can infect humans in three different ways. It can cause a skin infection if it gets into a cut or sore; if ingested, it can cause an abdominal infection; if inhaled, it can cause a lung infection. The last form is the most serious. There are a few cases (less than 10) of human anthrax skin infections in the United States every year among people who work closely with animals. These cases are almost never fatal.
The possibility of transmission of anthrax from animal to person or person to person is very low. However, anthrax spores are very hardy and can be engineered so that they easily disperse in the air. This so-called “weaponized” anthrax is the kind that was used in the series of postal attacks in October 2001. This form of anthrax is specially treated so that it does not “cake” and will readily disperse into the air if disturbed; however, significant technical expertise is required to do this.
Anthrax is one of several disease-causing agents that many experts consider useful for biological warfare.
Good Web sites for the public
1. FAQ’s about anthrax
An excellent site with a question and answer format. The site has three pages that give general information, technical information, and “additional” information.
(Information provided by Centers for Disease Control, CDC)
2. Tutorial on Anthrax
A self-paced tutorial designed for the general public and accompanied by audio. It may run a little slow on a computer connected to the Internet with a modem. It is an engaging and informative introduction to the subject of anthrax as a disease and as a weapon.
(Information provided by Medline Plus, a service of the U.S National Library of Medicine & the National Institutes of Health)
Resources for emergency managers and responders
1. Emergency Preparedness & Response relating to anthrax
(Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control, CDC)
Covers just about every possible aspect of anthrax. The information provided through these links (including the fact sheets) tends to be rather technical and specialized, directed to health care providers, public health officials, emergency managers and responders, and building design and maintenance personnel. Numerous links are given under each of the following categories:
Fact Sheets and Overviews
Preparation and Planning
Evaluation and Diagnosis
Surveillance and Investigation
Select Publications and Educational Materials
Resources for Extension professionals
In addition to the Web sites listed above, Extension professionals might find the following sites helpful.
1. A Fact Sheet for Parents: Children and Anthrax
Written at a very basic level, but the information is very complete. One of the good points of this particular piece is that it addresses the issue of fear before it goes into the basic facts about the disease. This fact sheet has been adapted for adult audiences by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
2. FAQs about Anthrax: 150 questions addressing every aspect of the anthrax issue. Good source for fact sheets or presentations. The level of the material is moderately technical.
(Information provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC)
3. Information for veterinarians and producers: Anthrax and animals
Review of anthrax in animals
(Information provided by the American Veterinary Medicine Association, AVMA)
Emphasis on handling of carcasses of animals that have died from anthrax
(Information provided by the University of California Davis)
4. How to Handle Suspicious Packages: Guidelines for handling suspicious packages or packages that contain unknown powders. (Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control, CDC)