Dr Tendai Zuze Matters of Health
In the past few weeks, there has been talk of anthrax in some parts of the country. Anthrax, by the way, is a rare but serious illness caused by bacteria called bacillus anthracis. It mainly affects livestock and wild animals though humans can get infected as well.
There’s no evidence that anthrax is transmitted from person to person, but it’s possible that anthrax skin lesions may be contagious through direct contact. Usually, anthrax bacteria enter the body through a wound in the skin. You can also become infected by eating contaminated meat or inhaling the spores.
There are four common routes of anthrax infection, each with different signs and symptoms. In most cases, symptoms develop within seven days but in inhalation anthrax symptoms might take weeks.
Cutaneous anthrax infection, which is the commonest, enters the body through a cut or other sore on your skin. This is the mildest form of anthrax and is seldom fatal with appropriate treatment. Signs and symptoms include:
A raised, itchy bump resembling an insect bite that quickly develops into a painless sore with a black center
Swelling in the sore and nearby lymph glands
Gastrointestinal anthrax infection begins by eating undercooked meat from an infected animal. Signs and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, loss of appetite, fever, severe bloody diarrhoea, sore throat or a swollen neck.
Inhalation anthrax develops when you breathe in anthrax spores. It’s the most deadly way to contract the disease, and even with treatment it is often fatal. Initial signs and symptoms of inhalation anthrax include: Flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat, mild fever, fatigue and muscle aches, which may last a few hours or days, mild chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, coughing up blood and painful swallowing. Later on, you may get high fever, trouble breathing and shock.
Anthrax spores are formed by anthrax bacteria that occur naturally in soil in most parts of the world. The spores can remain dormant for years until they find their way into a host. Common hosts for anthrax include wild or domestic livestock, such as cattle, goats and sheep.
Most human cases of anthrax occur as a result of exposure to infected animals or their meat or hides.
To contract anthrax, you must come in direct contact with anthrax spores, this is more likely If you:
- Work with cattle or other livestock during an anthrax outbreak
- Handle animal skins, furs or wool from areas with a high incidence of anthrax
- Work in veterinary medicine, especially if you deal with livestock
- Handle or dress game
- Inject illegal drugs, such as heroin
- Eat suspicious beef or game meat from unknown sources or animals that have died of unknown causes.
Left untreated, anthrax can lead to inflammation of the membranes and fluid covering the brain (meningitis), and subsequently death.
Anthrax treatment is most effective when given as early as possible and this is usually through antibiotics. Depending on multiple factors, one or multiple antibiotics may be used. Advanced inhalation anthrax may not respond to treatment at all.
Antibiotics are recommended to prevent infection in anyone exposed to anthrax spores. An anthrax vaccine for humans is now also available.
If you are worried about anthrax, please visit your doctor.