The threat of biological attack has prompted panic-buying of gas masks and antibiotics all over the world. Anthrax has been discovered at two separate workplaces in the US, leading to fears of a voluntary infection attempt.
Who Should get Vaccinated Against Anthrax?
The CDCP's advisory committee on immunization practices recommends vaccination for the following:
How can one get Access to it?
Someone intent on causing an anthrax outbreak would have three ways to access the bacteria.
One will be to find it in the environment - anthrax occurs naturally throughout the world and could be separated from soil or animal samples.
A second way would be for it to be supplied by a biological warfare programme, this is difficult to predict as it is done in a clandestine manner.
A third way, would be for someone to steal a so-called reference collection where the cell cultures are kept in hospitals or public health institutions, for checking suspected cases of the infection.
How is Anthrax Spread?
Anthrax infection can occur in three forms: through cutaneous (skin), inhalation, and via the gastrointestinal tract. Spores can live in the soil for years, and humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by inhaling anthrax spores from contaminated animal products. Eating half cooked meat from infected animals also can spread the disease.
The spread varies depending on how the disease was contracted, but symptoms usually occur within a week.
Skin: About 95 percent of anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or abrasion on the skin, such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products of infected animals. It begins as a raised scratchy bump that resembles an insect bite, but soon turns into a painless ulcer, usually one to three centimeters in diameter, usually with a black center in the middle. Lymph glands in the adjacent area may swell. About 20 percent of untreated cases result in death.
Inhalation:Initial symptoms may resemble a common cold, but lead to severe breathing problems and shock after several days. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal. An employee of a Florida tabloid publishing company contracted inhalation anthrax and died.
Intestinal:This form of anthrax may follow the consumption of contaminated meat and is characterized by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever, followed by abdominal pain, vomiting blood and severe diarrhea. Between 25 percent and 60 percent of cases are fatal.
Where is Anthrax Commonly Found?
Anthrax is worldwide. It is more common in developing countries or countries without veterinary public health programs. Certain regions of the world (South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East) report more anthrax in animals than elsewhere.
Is Anthrax Contagious?
Direct, person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely. It is not contagious.
How can it be Prevented?
In countries where anthrax is common and vaccination levels of animal herds are low, humans should avoid contact with livestock and animal products and not eat meat that has not been properly prepared.
Also, an anthrax vaccine has been licensed for use in humans. It is reported to be 93 percent effective.
What is the Anthrax Vaccine?
It is manufactured and distributed by BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Michigan. It is a cell-free filtrate vaccine, which means it contains no dead or live bacteria in the preparation. Anthrax vaccines intended for animals should not be used in humans.
People who work directly with the organism in the laboratory.
People who work with imported animal hides or furs in areas where standards
are insufficient to prevent exposure to anthrax spores.
People who handle potentially infected animal products in high-incidence areas. (Incidence is low in the United States, but veterinarians who travel to work in other countries where incidence is higher should consider getting vaccinated.)
Military personnel deployed to areas with high risk for exposure to the organism (as when it is used as a biological warfare weapon).
Pregnant women should be vaccinated only if absolutely necessary.