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How does anthrax occur naturally

01:00 Wed 10th Oct 2001 |

asks Tony b:
A.
Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and is one of the oldest known diseases.

It is an animal disease that can prove lethal to humans. In its dormant form, it turns into a highly stable spore, which can survive indefinitely until the right conditions come along.


Anthrax spores are common and found in sheep and goat wool, and in the soil.

Q. If they're so common, why aren't there more infections
A.
There are two ways to become infected with anthrax spores - through skin contact (cutaneous anthrax), which is less dangerous, and through inhalation (pulmonary anthrax), which is extremely rare. To become infected, a person would have to inhale more than 2,500 spores an hour.

Q. How many spores an hour do you inhale if you work with goat's wool, for example
A.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999, dealing with goat hair every day would mean that you were breathing about 500 spores an hour, and there are very few cases.


And studies done in the 1950s, of American millworkers who handled animal hides, show that infection by inhalation was unusual. There were 50 to 60 cases of anthrax a year on average. And, of these, only one in 20 was caused by inhalation of spores - the rest were infection of the skin.

Q. What are the symptoms of anthrax
A.
In cutaneous anthrax, an itchy patch will turn into a blister and then a black scab. It needs treatment with penicillin before it spreads to the bloodstream.


A few days after infection with pulmonary anthrax, cold-like symptoms would develop, along with a splitting headache and a high fever. Then vomiting, stomach pains, severe breathing difficulties and a rapidly falling blood pressure.

Q. Is it infectious
A.
No. You can't catch it from another person.

Q. Is inhaling anthrax spores always fatal
A.
No. It's similar to any other disease: not everyone exposed to it will become infected, not all infected persons will develop the disease, and not everyone who gets the disease will die as a result.

Q. What's the treatment
If antibiotics are given before the symptoms appear, pulmonary anthrax can be dealt with effectively.

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By Sheena Miller

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