Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Infection in humans most often involves the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, or the lungs.
Woolsorter's disease; Ragpicker's disease; Cutaneous anthrax; Gastrointestinal anthrax
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Anthrax commonly affects hoofed animals such as sheep and goats, but humans who come into contact with the infected animals can get sick from anthrax, too. In the past, the people who were most at risk for anthrax included farm workers, veterinarians, and tannery and wool workers.
There are three main routes of anthrax infection:
- Cutaneous anthrax occurs when anthrax touches a cut or scrape on the skin.
- Inhalation anthrax develops when anthrax
sporesenter the lungs through the respiratory tract.
- Gastrointestinal anthrax occurs when someone eats anthrax-tainted meat.
Anthrax may be used as a biological weapon or for bioterrorism. In 2001, anthrax sent through the U.S. Postal Service infected 22 people; 7 survivors had confirmed cutaneous anthrax disease.
While at least 17 nations are believed to have a biological weapons program, it is unknown how many nations or groups are working with anthrax. Most bioterrorism experts have concluded that it is difficult to use anthrax effectively as a weapon on a large scale.
Review Date: 05/30/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.