Anthrax

1 What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a serious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. This bacteria mainly affect ruminants like cattle, sheep, and goat, but can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals. It usually gains access into the body through a wound or by eating contaminated meat. 

One may also be infected by inhaling the spores of the bacteria. Symptoms range from mild forms like vomiting to serious ones like shock. Antibiotics is the preferred treatment for anthrax. Prompt treatment is very important to prevent complications.

2 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anthrax vary with the route of infection. Symptoms usually develop within a week of exposure to bacteria. Inhalation anthrax may take several weeks after exposure for the symptoms to appear. The four routes of anthrax infection are: 

Cutaneous anthrax – in this type of anthrax, the bacteria enters the body through a wound in the skin. Symptoms of cutaneous anthrax are very mild. Infection causes a small, raised bump on the skin which gradually develops into a sore. The sores may have swelling, but are usually painless. Nearby lymph glands may also be swollen. 

Gastrointestinal anthrax – infection occurs by eating undercooked, contaminated meat. Main symptoms of this type of anthrax include: 

Pulmonary anthrax – inhalation of spores cause pulmonary or inhalation anthrax. This is one of the most serious form of anthrax and is often fatal. During the initial stages inhalation anthrax is characterized by: 

  • Symptoms resembling flu like sore throat, fever, and fatigue
  • Chest discomfort
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Blood in cough
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty in swallowing

As the condition progresses, anthrax may lead to high fever, shortness of breath, shock, and meningitis

Injection anthrax – this type of anthrax is transmitted through injecting illegal drugs. 

Injection anthrax cause redness and swelling at the injected area. This may also lead to potentially life-threatening symptoms like shock, multiple organ failure, and meningitis. 

3 Causes

Anthrax is caused by the infection of bacteria Bacillus anthracis. Domestic animals like cattle, sheep, horses, and goats are the common hosts of this bacterium. People get anthrax by exposure to spores of these bacteria. The spores gain access through inhalation, contaminated meat, or direct contact with the infected animal. 

Being in a place with a high risk of exposure to the bacteria is a major risk factor for anthrax. Working in laboratories with the bacteria or handling skins, furs, and wools of animals in a place with high incidence of anthrax also adds to the risk. Injecting illegal drugs and working in livestock management field are also risk factors for this deadly disease. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Specific tests used in the diagnosis of anthrax are: 

  • Biopsy – skin lesions are tested for the presence of anthrax bacterium
  • Blood tests – blood tests reveal the presence of bacteria in blood 
  • X-ray – inhalation anthrax is identified with the help of CT scan or X-ray images 
  • Stool testing – testing stool samples for presence of the bacteria, particularly in gastrointestinal anthrax
  • Spinal tap – this method is used to check for anthrax meningitis, one of the complication of anthrax

Review of symptoms and history of the person including occupation helps to identify chances of anthrax. 

5 Treatment

Early treatment is important for successful treatment of Anthrax. 

Oral antibiotics like ciprofloxacin or doxycycline is given for about two months to control infection. Combination of antibiotics is recommended based on several factors like type of anthrax, health of the patient, and age. 

Advanced stages of inhalation anthrax may not respond to antibiotics treatment. As the disease progresses, antitoxins are prescribed. Antitoxins removes the bacterial toxins.

6 Prevention

Vaccination against anthrax bacteria is the best way to prevent anthrax, particularly in people who have high risk of infection. 

It is generally recommended for military personnel, scientists, and others who are in high-risk occupations. Avoiding contact with infected animal and avoiding eating contaminated meat also preventive measures.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Several alternative and homeopathic remedies exist for Anthrax.

Essential oils of wintergreen, white fir, spruce, and Douglas fir are suggested in alleviating symptoms of anthrax. Garlic, wild indigo, Echinacea herb, and oregano are the suggested natural remedies for anthrax. 

Homeopathic remedies like arsenic-alb, anthracinum, pyroginum, crot-h, lachesis, hippoz, echinecia, tarent may be helpful in controlling anthrax symptoms.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with Anthrax.

Avoid infected animals to prevent infection by the bacteria. Ensure meat is fully cooked and is from reliable source without contamination. Take the antibiotic course completely for successful treatment.

9 Risks and Complications

Meningitis is the most serious complication associated with anthrax and may lead to heavy bleeding and death.

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