What is Anthrax?
Anthrax, a disease caused by the rod-shaped bacterium Bacillus anthracis, is an infectious one; that is, it is contagious, spread from one creature to another. It is usually found in hoofed animals, both wild and domestic, like cattle, sheep, goats, antelopes. The disease is not limited to animals only though. Anthrax can also spread to humans when the latter deal with animal hides or when handling the animals. The bacterium can thus find its way into the system of the human. The infection can occur in a number of ways.
Where is Anthrax most common?
Developing countries, characterised by limited resources and lack of facilities like veterinary services, have higher rates of anthrax than developed ones, most commonly found in regions of the world like South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
Forms of anthrax
Anthras exists in 3 forms – most of which are lethal – namely:
In the first form, contact with skin would potentially result in infection. Breathing in air contaminated with the spores is also possible. The herbivorous mammals inhale in the spores while grazing. The bacterium responsible for the infection has the ability to produce some very resistant spores which can tolerate extremely harsh environmental conditions for a prolonged period of time. These spores can become activated when they come into contact with skin, and from then on, they multiply. The disease is not spread from person to person directly; rather, it is the transfer of the spores from one to another which causes the infection to occur. The bacterium may also invade the alimentary canal of humans when the latter consume infected meat.
Anthrax and biological terrorism
Anthrax has been used in the past to intentionally infect people during wars. It was first used in 1916 by Scandinavians against the Russian army. In the 1930s, it was used again, by the Japanese to infect prisoners of war.
The bacterium can be easily cultivated by a layman who has some basic knowledge of biology. However, to cultivate it in great amounts with the intent to contaminate large numbers of people, specialised equipment would be needed.
Symptoms of anthrax
- Appearance of sores
- Scabs appear over the sores
- Chest pain
This one often leads to death of the infected person.
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Vomiting of blood