Anthrax is caused by bacillus anthracis, a kind of gram-positive, rod-shaped, and endospores bacteria that usually lays dormant in the soil.
It is a zoonotic pathogen, which means that it enters the human body through an infected animal.
Initially, the bacteria infects domestic animals like cows, sheep, and horses. After some time, it is excreted out with the body fluids of the infected animal, such as urine and feces. These vegetative bacteria then sporulate in the environment.
Spores are the infective forms of a pathogen. For human infectivity, around 1 to 3 spores are enough in cases of anthrax. Once it enters the human body, it becomes active and starts reproducing, multiplying itself in the process.
The infectivity, symptoms, and fatality depend on how the bacteria are entering your body.
What Are The Major Types Of Anthrax?
There are mainly three types of anthrax, based on their ways of being introduced to your immune system.
- Cutaneous anthrax :
It is also known as a malignant pustule or hide porter disease. This is the most common type of anthrax infection out there, with around 90 percent of the patients being diagnosed with Cutaneous anthrax. It is also considered the least dangerous because the rate of mortality is very low compared to the other kinds of anthrax.
Cause – This happens when the bacteria are entering your body through a lesion or cut on the skin. Those who handle rawhide (animal skin) on a regular basis, are the ones who get infected the most.
Symptoms – The signs and symptoms start to show up within a week. At first, patients come with painless papules or skin bumps. Later these papules form ulcers, which are known as Eschar formations. 10 to 20 percent of these patients develop fatal septicemia over time. If left untreated, these conditions will worsen over time and can be life-threatening.
Treatment – Doctors may prescribe medicines like ciprofloxacin or doxycycline, which can be given orally for 7 to 10 days.
- Pulmonary anthrax:
This is known as wool sorters disease. Pulmonary anthrax is very dangerous, with a mortality rate of nearly 90 percent. Untreated patients often undergo fever, seizures, convulsions, and shortness of breath, and ultimately they are most likely to succumb to death within days.
Cause – If the bacteria gets airborne, it is easily transmitted through the inhalation of spores. The pathogen enters the body through the pulmonary tract and infects the lymph nodes.
Symptoms – It takes up to 2 months for the symptoms to occur. Pulmonary anthrax can cause hemorrhagic pneumonia symptoms like dyspnea, hemoptysis, and chest pain. Almost 90 percent of untreated patients get septicemia.
Treatment – Three drugs are commonly prescribed to patients with this condition for 60 days, which are ciprofloxacin, meropenem, and clindamycin. You can also use linezolid instead of clindamycin. Remember, without instant medical attention there is no way of getting cured.
- Gastrointestinal anthrax :
It is a very rare type of anthrax because it infects very few patients. Intestinal anthrax is as lethal as its pulmonary counterpart.
Cause – Patients get infected by it due to the ingestion of poorly cooked meat that is already infected by anthrax. Other than this, there are some extreme cases where it got transmitted through kissing or sharing food.
Symptoms – Gastrointestinal anthrax can cause hemorrhagic enteritis or pharyngeal exudate. If the bacteria infects the upper intestinal tract, oral ulcers can be a common occurrence. Around 25 to 60 percent of people can get septicemia.
Treatment – Medications like ciprofloxacin, meropenem, and clindamycin are used in order to treat this condition. The treatments of gastrointestinal and pulmonary anthrax are basically the same.
Diagnosis of anthrax :
Specimens like exudate, swab sputum, or stools need to be lab-tested. Also, you can do gram staining, pathogen culture, serology, or molecular method (such as PCR) to determine if you have been exposed to anthrax.
- Vaccine and prophylaxis :
Anthrax vaccine adsorbed is widely used all over the globe to fight anthrax, which is made from the Sterne strain. Also, there is an FDA-approved vaccine called BioThrax to treat Anthrax.
As a preventive medication, drugs like doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, or amoxicillin can be prescribed for 60 days.
Anthrax is an ancient pathogen that is traced back to 500 B.C. in Egypt.
It is being misused as a bio-weapon by many government agencies and terrorist organizations all around the world in order to eliminate some of the high profile targets as well as mass murder.
Anthrax is a common problem in the vast agricultural zones and belts, especially the ones in North and South America, Africa, and Asia.
A patient diagnosed with any kind of anthrax should always be promptly hospitalized and quarantined so that the bacteria can not get transmitted further and infect others. Apart from humans, vaccination of cattle is also necessary.