Anthrax is an infectious and potentially fatal disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It spreads when the anthrax spores are inhaled, ingested, or come into contact with the skin lesion on a host.


Anthrax commonly affects warm-blooded animals, especially cattle and sheep; but can also occasionally affect human population. Infection in humans involves the skin, gastrointestinal tract or lungs.

Anthrax is rare in humans. Humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by breathing in anthrax spores from infected animal products (like wool). People also can become infected with gastrointestinal anthrax by eating undercooked meat from infected animals.

Types of anthrax:

  • Cutaneous anthrax
  • Inhalation anthrax
  • Gastrointestinal anthrax

The symptoms range from fever, flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain or appearance of a sore on the skin. There are effective vaccines against anthrax. Some forms of anthrax respond well to antibiotic treatment.

Anthrax from contaminated mail, equipment or clothing:

In the mail handling processing sites, B. anthracis spores may be aerosolized during the operation and maintenance of high-speed, mail sorting machines potentially exposing workers. In addition, these spores could get into heating, ventilating, or air conditioning systems.

Anthrax as a weapon:

Anthrax can also be used as a weapon. This happened in the United States in 2001. Anthrax was deliberately spread through the postal system by sending letters with powder containing anthrax. This caused 22 cases of anthrax infection.

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