DEPARTMENT: AGRICULTURE


ANTHRAX

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is anthrax?

Why has anthrax become a current issue?

Anthrax is considered to be a potential agent for use in biological warfare. It has been implicated in a series of recent incidents in the USA and elsewhere, apparently spread intentionally in the mail.

How common is anthrax and who can get it?

Anthrax is a common disease of animals in agricultural regions. It is an endemic animal disease in South Africa. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually the result of occupational exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers who come into contact with dead animals and animal products from other countries where anthrax occurs more frequently, may become infected with B. anthracis (industrial anthrax).

There are three forms of anthrax infection

How is anthrax transmitted?

What are the symptoms of anthrax?

Symptoms vary, depending on how the disease was contracted, but usually occur within seven days.

Cutaneous form

Most (about 95 %) anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters through skin lesions (cuts or abrasions) such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products (especially goat hair) of infected animals. Skin infection begins as a swollen itchy area that resembles an insect bite but within one to two days develops into a vesicle and then a painless ulcer, usually 1 to 3 cm in diameter, with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the centre. Lymph glands in the adjacent area may be swollen. About 20 % of untreated cases of cutaneous anthrax will result in death. Deaths rarely occur when appropriate antimicrobial therapy is applied.

Inhalation anthrax

Initial symptoms may resemble a common cold. After several days, the symptoms may develop into severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal unless treated intensively and early by means of antibiotics.

Gastrointestinal anthrax

This form of anthrax may follow the consumption of contaminated meat and is characterised by an acute inflammation of the gastointestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever are followed by abdominal pain, bleeding when vomiting and severe diarrhoea. Intestinal anthrax results in death in 25 to 60 % of cases, unless treated intensively and early.

Where is anthrax usually found?

Anthrax occurs globally. It is, however, more common in developing countries or countries lacking veterinary public health facilities. Certain regions of the world (South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East) report more anthrax cases in animals than others.

Can anthrax be spread from one person to another?

Direct person-to-person transmission of anthrax is extremely unlikely. Communicability is not a concern in managing or visiting patients with inhalational anthrax.

Is there a way to prevent infection?

In countries where anthrax frequently occurs and vaccination levels of animal herds are low, humans should avoid contact with livestock and animal products and avoid eating meat that has not been properly slaughtered and cooked. Vaccination against anthrax is possible when required.

How is anthrax diagnosed?

Anthrax is diagnosed by isolating B. anthracis from the blood, skin lesions or respiratory secretions or by measuring specific antibodies in the blood of persons suspected of having the disease.

Can anthrax be treated?

ANTHRAX IN THE MAIL

 

What should I do if I receive anthrax-contaminated mail?

How to recognise suspicious-looking packages and letters

Some characteristics of suspicious-looking packages and letters include the following …

Suspicious-looking unopened letter or package marked with threatening message such as "Anthrax"

o If you are at home, then report the incident to the local police.

o If you are at work, then report the incident to the local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor.

Envelope with powder and powder spills out onto surface

o If you are at home, report the incident to the local police.

o If you are at work, then report the incident to the local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor.

Room contamination by aerosolisation

For example: small device triggered, warning that air-handling system is contaminated, or warning that a biological agent is released into a public area.

o If you are at home, report the incident to the local police.

o If you are at work, then report the incident to the local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor.