Anthrax is a serious disease caused which occurs when anthrax spores get into the body. Once the spores enter the body, they form bacteria called bacillus anthracis. The bacteria begin to multiply, spread through body and produce toxins (poisons), which cause a person to become severely ill. There are three types of anthrax:
- Inhalation (lung) anthrax occurs when person inhales spores from contaminated materials such as wool, hair, or hides.
- Cutaneous (skin) anthrax is caused by direct contact with the spores (i.e. contact with infected animals or animal products) through a cut or scrape in the skin.
- Gastrointestinal (digestive) anthrax is transmitted by eating undercooked or raw meat or dairy products from infected animals. This type of anthrax is rare in the United States as livestock in areas where animals have had anthrax are vaccinated and food animals are routinely examined to ensure they are healthy at the time of slaughter.
Anthrax is not known to spread from one person to another.
There is a vaccine to prevent anthrax, but it is not typically available for the general public. The vaccine is recommended for anyone who may be exposed to anthrax, including certain members of the U.S. armed forces,
special laboratory workers, or workers who may enter or re-enter contaminated areas. The vaccine should be administered to these individuals prior to exposure to anthrax. The CDC recommends a series of 5 doses of anthrax
vaccine over 18 months. A booster dose is recommended every year to maintain immunity. In the event there is an attack using anthrax, anyone that is exposed should immediately be started on the appropriate antibiotics and then vaccinated.