You can get anthrax through indirect or direct contact by touching, inhaling, or ingesting anthrax spores. Once anthrax spores get inside your body and activate, the bacteria multiply, spread, and produce toxins.
You can come into contact with anthrax through animals or biological weapons.
Humans can get anthrax through:
Anthrax can be used as a biological weapon, but this is very rare. There hasn’t been an anthrax attack in the since 2001.
Despite the 2001 attack, anthrax is uncommon in the United States. It’s most often found in some farming areas in the following regions:
Anthrax illness is more common in farm animals than people. Humans have an increased risk of getting anthrax if they:
While anthrax can be transmitted to humans via contact with animals, it’s not spread through human-to-human contact.
The symptoms of anthrax exposure depend on the mode of contact.
Cutaneous (skin) contact
Cutaneous anthrax is anthrax contracted through contact with the skin.
If your skin comes into contact with anthrax, you may get a small, raised sore that’s itchy. It usually looks like an insect bite.
The sore quickly develops into a blister. It then becomes a skin ulcer with a black center. This doesn’t usually cause pain.
The symptoms typically develop within one to five days after exposure.
People who inhale anthrax usually develop symptoms within a week. But symptoms can develop as quickly as two days after exposure and up to 45 days after exposure.
The symptoms of inhalation anthrax include:
The symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax usually develop within a week of exposure.
Symptoms of anthrax ingestion include:
Tests used to diagnose anthrax include:
If your doctor detects anthrax in your body, the test results will be sent to a public health department laboratory for confirmation.
Treatment for anthrax depends if you’ve developed symptoms or not.
If you’re exposed to anthrax but you have no symptoms, your doctor will begin preventive treatment. Preventive treatment consists of antibiotics and the anthrax vaccine.
If you’ve been exposed to anthrax and have symptoms, your doctor will treat you with antibiotics for 60 to 100 days. Examples include ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or doxycycline (Doryx, Monodox).
Experimental treatments include an antitoxin therapy that eliminates the toxins caused by Bacillus anthracis infection as opposed to attacking the bacteria itself.
You can reduce your risk of anthrax by having the anthrax vaccine.
The only anthrax vaccine that’s approved by the FDA is the Biothrax vaccine.
When used as a preventive measure, it’s a five-dose vaccine series given over an 18-month period. When used after exposure to anthrax, it’s given as a three-dose vaccine series.
The anthrax vaccine isn’t typically available to the general public. It’s given to people who work in situations that put them at high risk of contact with anthrax, such as military personnel and scientists.