Dr. Ajay Mohan (AIIMS)MBBS

November 27, 2018

June 04, 2022


What is anthrax?

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis bacteria. The organism is generally found in animals rather than humans. It has a dormant phase in the form of spores and can live for years as spores. The spores germinate and multiply in favourable conditions. Humans can acquire the infection through these spores which get activated within the body, multiply and spread, and produce the toxin causing the disease. Anthrax is named after a Greek word that translates to coal. this is attributed to the fact that anthrax naturally causes dark black spots on the skin.

Terrorists used this technique in 2001 to spread anthrax. This bioterrorist attack of anthrax is a reason for concern, and scientists are working to prevent the spread of this disease through such an attack in the future.

What are the main signs and symptoms of anthrax?

The symptoms depend on the type of anthrax.

 Cutaneous anthrax is when spores enter the human body through a cut or wound in the skin and further develop into an itchy bump with a black sore. Sores can be seen on the arm, head, neck, and face. Some people can have headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle ache, and fever.

Gastrointestinal anthrax can be caused by the ingestion of the meat of an infected animal. The symptoms include fever and vomiting as in food poisoning, but a severe form can cause abdominal pain, bloody vomiting, and constant diarrhoea.

Anthrax caused by the inhalation of the spores is the most severe form. The initial symptoms are similar to cold, including a fever, cough, fatigue, body ache, and headache, but further progression can cause breathing problems and shock.

What are its main causes?

The spores of the large rod-shaped bacteria Bacillus anthracis is the cause for infection. The bacteria generally thrive in the soil as spores for many years. These spores are resistant to destruction. Usually, they infect grazing animals more than humans. Humans can acquire the infection either through breathing air containing spores, eating infectious meat of an animal, or a spore deposition on a wound or cut on the skin.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Doctors enquire about the person’s medical history and occupation in detail. Based on the symptoms, the doctor can confirm the diagnosis by collecting infected skin samples, throat swabs, or sputum and by directly analysing the blood for the presence of bacteria or antibodies. Doctors can also confirm diagnosis through chest x-rays, where chest widening or fluid in the lung coverings can be visualized. (Consult a doctor with Doctor app)

All types of anthrax can be treated and cured with antibiotics; Antitoxins must be used to treat toxins produced by bacteria along with other medications. sometimes intravenous antibiotics are also used. Antibiotics must be prescribed and taken with a prescription from doctors. People who are exposed to anthrax can take preventive antibiotics for 60 days. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends antibiotics doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, and parenteral procaine penicillin G for anthrax.

Along with these three doses, a vaccination series should be started at the earliest after exposure. Vaccines are available but not for the general public and must be procured from a healthcare practitioner.

Anthrax is a reportable disease; health agencies must be notified after the diagnosis of a case. Other antibiotics active against B. anthracis are doxycycline, penicillin, amoxicillin, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, gatifloxacin, chloramphenicol, etc.

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  1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Anthrax
  2. Melissa Conrad Stöppler. Anthrax. eMedicineHealth. [health]
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  4. National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. Anthrax. Health and Family Welfare. [internet]
  5. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. A History of Anthrax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [internet]