Inhaled anthrax caused by Bacillus anthracis

Understanding Inhaled Anthrax

Inhaled anthrax is a rare but life-threatening illness caused by the Bacillus anthracis bacteria. This type of anthrax is contracted by breathing in spores of the B. anthracis bacteria. Inhaled anthrax is considered a bioterrorism agent due to its potential to cause widespread illness and death.

The bacteria is found naturally on pasture-grazing animals, particularly sheep and hoofed animals, such as cattle, goats, and horses, and is found in soil where infected animal hair and skins have been buried or deposited. People can become infected when the spores of the bacteria are inhaled. It is not spread directly from person to person.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhaled Anthrax

Patients infected with inhalation anthrax usually begin to experience symptoms 1-7 days after exposure to the bacteria. Initially, symptoms can be mild and may include fever, chills, and fatigue. These symptoms may be mistaken for flu or other illnesses. As the illness progresses, patients may develop difficulty breathing due to swelling in the neck, chest pain, and an absence of sweating. This leads to other symptoms such as confusion, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, and bloody discharge from the nose and mouth.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Inhaled Anthrax

Inhaled anthrax is diagnosed by a physical examination, chest X-ray, sputum cultures, and blood tests. Treatment must be initiated as soon as possible to be effective. Patients are typically hospitalized and treated with antibiotics, either orally or by IV. If untreated, the mortality rate is high and is generally greater than 90%.

Prevention of Inhaled Anthrax

To prevent inhalation anthrax, individuals should avoid contact with animals or animal products that may contain B. anthracis spores. Individuals should also avoid handling objects that may be contaminated with B. anthracis spores, such as clothing and bedding used by animals or soils in which animals have been buried. If anthrax is suspected, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Other Precautions

  • Wash hands thoroughly after coming into contact with animal products or objects from animals.
  • Wear protective clothing when handling animals or animal products.
  • Avoid ingesting wild animal products such as raw meat or unpasteurized milk.
  • Report any suspicious activity involving the trafficking of animal products to the relevant authorities.