Anthrax (malignant edema) is an infectious disease, caused by a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. The bacterium harbors mostly in warm-blooded animals, but it can infect man as well. Humans are infected with the disease directly or indirectly from infected animals. Vaccines are available for animals and humans and should be used for high-risk groups including military settings, and those occupationally exposed, etc.
Why has anthrax become a current issue?
Since anthrax spores can be stored in a particle form, it has become a potential source of biological warfare. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), a systematic vaccination will be started for all U.S. military forces.
Who is at risk?
Anthrax is most commonly found in agricultural regions where it harbors in animals. These regions include South and Central America, Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Humans are infected by anthrax when they are exposed to dead animals or animal products. However, animals are rarely identified with anthrax in the United States. Most animal infection reports are found in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma.
How is anthrax transmitted?
Anthrax infection can occur through three modes: cutaneous (skin), inhalation and gastrointestinal. The spores of B. anthracis can thrive in the soil for several years and humans are most commonly infected when they handle animal products from infected animals or inhale anthrax spores. Moreover, anthrax can also be caused if uncooked meat from infected animals is eaten. Infected animals can rarely be found in the United States.
Symptoms of anthrax
Disease symptoms vary depending on the mode of transmission, but symptoms generally occur within a week.
Cutaneous: This is the most common mode of infection. The bacterium enters the skin when there is a cut or abrasion, which occurs while handling infected animal products such as wool, leather, hides or goat hair. An itchy bump is seen on the skin surface that most likely resembles an insect bite. However, it takes a shape of a vesicle within 1-2 days and finally leads to a painless ulcer that has a dimension of 1-3 cm in diameter and a black neurotic area in the middle. Approximately 20 percent of untreated patients die of cutaneous anthrax.
Inhalation: The first symptom most likely resembles a common cold. After few days, the symptoms progress to difficult breathing problems and shock. In this kind of infection, death occurs in just 1-2 days after the initiation of the acute symptoms.
Intestinal: The first symptom starts with an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Some of the common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever and abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, vomiting of blood, etc. The death percentage varies from 25 to 60 percent.
Treatment for anthrax
Effective antibiotics can be prescribed by doctors. In general, penicillin is given, but other antibiotics such as erythromycin, chloramphenicol or tetracycline can also be given for the same. However, treatment must be started as early as possible. If not treated, the disease can cause death.
Where is anthrax usually found?
Though anthrax can be present worldwide, it is more prevalent in countries having less standardized and effective public health programs. Some of the high-risk areas include South and Central America, Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
Preventive measures against the spread of anthrax
Anthrax vaccine is easily available for those having high-risk occupations. In order to prevent anthrax, one needs to handle dead animals with utmost care, provide sufficient ventilation while processing fur, hides, wool or hair and vaccine animals. However, countries where anthrax is very common and at the same time vaccination levels of animal herds are low, one should avoid contact with livestock and animal products and also avoid meat that has not been slaughtered properly. Humans can use the anthrax vaccine, which is about 93 percent effective against the disease.
What is the anthrax vaccine?
It is a cell-free filtrate vaccine that uses dead bacteria against live bacteria. The Anthrax vaccine is given to people who often come in contact with imported animal hides, wool, fur, bone meat, bristles and animal hair. Moreover, people involved in the diagnostic or investigational activities may be exposed to anthrax spores.
The Anthrax vaccine is manufactured by the BioPort Corporation, which is situated in Lansing, Michigan. The anthrax vaccine is licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has been continuously given in the United States since 1970.
What is the protocol for anthrax vaccination?
The immunization process consists of three subcutaneous injections, which are given in two-week intervals followed by three more subcutaneous injections, which are given at 6, 12, and 18-month intervals. Moreover, an annual booster injection is also required in order to maintain immunity.
Are there adverse reactions to the anthrax vaccine?
Like other vaccines, the anthrax vaccine may cause symptoms such as redness, itching, soreness, lumps or swelling at the site of injection. Approximately 30 percent of men and 60 percent of women complain about these local reactions, but these symptoms disappear in a short while. However, severe allergic reactions may occur after taking any kind of vaccination, and the frequency is less than once per 100,000 doses.
Are there any long-term side effects of anthrax vaccine?
There is no side effect of the anthrax vaccine.
Should everyone be vaccinated against anthrax?
The Anthrax vaccine is given to those who are more susceptible to this disease. The vaccine should only be given to healthy men and women from 18 to 65 years of age. People who are hypersensitive to the vaccine, HIV infected people, pregnant women, and people under the age of 18 or above 65 years of age should not be vaccinated.