• Definition

    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.

    See also: Inhaltion anthrax

    Alternative Names

    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 spores enter 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.