Overview of Anthrax

Anthrax is a serious bacterial illness that is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. This infection occurs after the bacteria that causes the disease is transmitted to humans from its animal host. The condition is deadly and can affect multiple organs in the human body. 

Anthrax disease is zoonotic in nature and mainly affects livestock and wild game animals. Humans become infected with Bacillus bacteria after getting into already infected animals.  Bacteria that cause the disease are spore-forming in nature and start dividing when transferred to the human body.                                                

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Signs and Symptoms of Anthrax

Anthrax is a lethal condition and the infection can spread to other parts of the body if it remains untreated. Symptoms may appear days or weeks after infection is established. Symptoms of anthrax can vary according to the type of anthrax. 

Cutaneous anthrax is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • The appearance of itchy blisters
  • Inflammation around sore
  • Blackening of skin sore 

Inhalation anthrax is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever 
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Discomfort
  • Cough

Injection anthrax has symptoms similar to cutaneous anthrax except for the appearance of a fluid-filled boil under the skin. 

Gastrointestinal anthrax is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomit containing blood 
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Gland swelling
  • Changes in voice

Types of Anthrax

There are four different types of anthrax to know about:

Cutaneous Anthrax: This type of anthrax mainly affects the skin and appears as a small skin sore. The sore can develop into blisters that later on become a skin ulcer and is usually painless.

Gastrointestinal Anthrax: As indicated by the name, this type of anthrax affects the digestive system and is indicated by altered digestive patterns, vomiting, stomach pain, and inflammation. 

Inhalation Anthrax: This type of anthrax usually begins as flu or cold and is characterized by fatigue, fever, cough, and sore throat. Over time, infection causes symptoms severeness and effects

Injection Anthrax: This is a rare form of anthrax and can aggressively spread to different parts of the body. This type of anthrax has similar symptoms to cutaneous anthrax but the infection spreads deeper under the skin.

Causes of Anthrax

Anthrax is an infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium known as Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax bacteria is spore-forming in nature and can be present in soil in dormant form.

 Animals get infected with the bacteria when they feed on grass containing bacterial spores. Humans acquire the infection after coming into contact with bacterial spores via skin wounds, contaminated water, direct inhalation, and eating poorly processed meat of infected animals.


Risk Factors of Anthrax

People who are being exposed to infected animals and their products are certainly at a higher risk of developing anthrax. So, occupational risk is an important factor in the case of anthrax. 



The condition is rare and there is little chance of being exposed to anthrax bacteria. However, the only way to prevent anthrax is the anthrax vaccine that is usually administered to people who are at a high risk of developing the infection.



Anthrax infection can affect several organs and the diagnosis is based on the confirmation of anthrax bacteria in different body regions. Some of the common that can help with the diagnosis of anthrax include:

Skin Sampling: Skin lesions can be tested for the confirmation of cutaneous anthrax. 

Blood Test: The presence of anthrax bacteria can be confirmed in the blood once the infection is established. 

Image Testing: Several imaging techniques such as chest X-rays or CT scans can help your physician visualize the signs of inhalation anthrax. 

Stool Test: A stool sample can be used for the confirmation of gastrointestinal anthrax. 

Lumbar Puncture:  This technique is based on drawing fluid from the spinal canal and is used to confirm the presence of systemic anthrax. 

Treatment of Anthrax | When to Consult a Doctor

Once anthrax infection is established, anthrax is treated using a combination of antibiotics that deter the spread of infection.