Anthrax is a severe infectious disease, which is caused due to the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The anthrax bacteria are present within a shell in the soil for several years. When the spores get inside the body, it breaks open the shell and becomes potentially active. It releases the spores from the shell through the bloodstream which in turn causes various health problems.

It mostly occurs in livestock or farm animals like cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc. But, being contagious in nature, humans can also get infected on coming in contact with the infected animal. Anthrax is mostly spread due to breathing contaminated air or air containing the anthrax spores, eating contaminated food or directly on coming in contact with the spores via cuts or broken skin or getting injected by heroin.

Generally, people who work with or nearby animals or animal products, people travelling to distant remote places, working in the postal services or military or working at the labs with the anthrax bacteria are at a higher risk of getting contaminated.

anthrax infection

There are four routes of anthrax:

Cutaneous Anthrax:

The person usually gets infected when the spore enters the body through a cut or skin abrasion.

Pulmonary Anthrax:

This form of anthrax occurs when a person breathes in air contaminated by the spores. It is the most deadly and fatal form of anthrax.

Injection Anthrax:

This form often occurs on getting injected or injecting with harmful illegal drugs like heroin.

Gastrointestinal Anthrax:

This form of anthrax happens on eating undercooked meat of an animal infected with anthrax or any other food which is already contaminated by the anthrax spores. Also Read: Poor Hygiene, Undercooked Meat May Lead To Tapeworm


The symptoms of anthrax usually develop several weeks later after getting infected by the spores. There are four forms or routes through anthrax that can occur which include skin, inhalation, injection or through the intestines. Each and every route has its own sign and symptom which are:

Skin or Cutaneous Anthrax:

  • Itchy bump
  • Swelling
  • Ulcer

Lung or Inhalation Anthrax:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Coughing up blood
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • High fever
  • Meningitis
  • Shock

Injection Anthrax:

  • Swelling and redness at the site of injection
  • Meningitis
  • Multiple organ failure

Gastrointestinal Anthrax:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sore throat and difficulty in swallowing

Diagnosis and Treatment

As the usual signs and symptoms are common like that of severe flu, it is difficult to acknowledge in the initial stages. But one must make it a point to consult a doctor or physician if they work in anthrax labs or have to in animal farms or are a veterinarian. The doctor may ask about the past medical history and undergo a thorough medical check-up including some tests which are:

  • Skin testing
  • Sputum and throat swab testing
  • Chest X-Ray or Computerized Tomography (CT)
  • Blood test,
  • Spinal tap (i.e. lumbar puncture)
  • Stool testing

Once the source or the route of infection is known, it is easier for the doctor to recommend specific treatment by prescribing antibiotics.

A severe anthrax infection requires hospitalization and administering continuous fluids and ventilation.

People having a risk of getting this infection, might take a preventive measure by proper consultation with their doctor and getting vaccinated to prevent anthrax. Also Read: Learn About Various Vaccines For Different Age Groups

Unless you work with animals or in labs, you can be careful while travelling to steer clear of livestock and infected animals.