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Anthrax

 Background | Resources | Articles |  Related Products

  Background

Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. A bacterium is a very small organism made up of one cell. Many bacteria can cause disease. A spore is a cell that is dormant (asleep) but may come to life with the right conditions.

There are three types of anthrax:

  • skin (cutaneous)
  • lungs (inhalation)
  • digestive (gastrointestinal)
Anthrax is not known to spread from one person to another. Humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by breathing in anthrax spores from infected animal products (like wool, for example). People also can become infected with gastrointestinal anthrax by eating undercooked meat from infected animals.

Anthrax also can be used as a weapon. This happened in the United States in 2001. Anthrax was deliberately spread through the postal system by sending letters with powder containing anthrax. This caused 22 cases of anthrax infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies agents with recognized bioterrorism potential into three priority areas (A, B and C). Anthrax is classified as a Category A agent. Category A agents are those that:
  • pose the greatest possible threat for a bad effect on public health
  • may spread across a large area or need public awareness
  • need a great deal of planning to protect the public's health
In most cases, early treatment with antibiotics can cure cutaneous anthrax. Even if untreated, 80 percent of people who become infected with cutaneous anthrax do not die. Gastrointestinal anthrax is more serious because between one-fourth and more than half of cases lead to death. Inhalation anthrax is much more severe. In 2001, about half of the cases of inhalation anthrax ended in death.

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ThBacillus anthracise symptoms (warning signs) of anthrax are different depending on the type of the disease:
  • Cutaneous: The first symptom is a small sore that develops into a blister. The blister then develops into a skin ulcer with a black area in the center. The sore, blister and ulcer do not hurt.
  • Gastrointestinal: The first symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, and fever, followed by bad stomach pain.
  • Inhalation: The first symptoms of inhalation anthrax are like cold or flu symptoms and can include a sore throat, mild fever and muscle aches.
Later symptoms include cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, tiredness and muscle aches. Caution: Do not assume that just because a person has cold or flu symptoms that they have inhalation anthrax.

(Source: CDC)

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Resources

CDC Anthrax The basics about anthrax.
Anthrax: Work Safety Information from the CDC.
Anthrax Q & A: Anthrax and the Mail There are no scientifically proven recommendations for preventing exposure. However, there are some common-sense steps people can take.
Anthrax An OSHA Safety and Health Topic.
Anthrax in the Workplace In October 2001, four workers died from inhalation anthrax and an additional 13 developed cutaneous or inhalational disease as a result of intentional terrorist activity. In most cases seen thus far, the disease was linked to unexpected workplace exposures to anthrax spores contained in letters mailed through the United States Postal Service.
Anthrax eTool OSHA. Discusses anthrax topics, including who is at risk for anthrax exposure and what to do in case of an anthrax threat.

Security of the Mail - Keeping the Mail Safe

From the United States Postal Service.

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Articles

Bioterrorism update--information for the dentist Dentists could make a tremendous contribution to the response of such an attack by gaining an understanding of the bioweapons that could be used, as well as the symptoms of their diseases and therapies for treatment. This article gives a general overview of the biological agents that terrorists are most likely to use and provides the dentist with information about how to contribute to an effective response in the event of such an attack.
Bioterrorism and catastrophe response: a quick-reference guide to resources Armed with information about biological weapons, dentists can provide faster diagnosis, inform their patients about risks, prophylaxis or treatment and rethink their own role in terrorism response.

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