Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by the spore forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It occurs most frequently among cattle, goats and sheep. These animals acquire the spores from direct contact with contaminated soil. Humans usually become infected with the spores from infected animals. If these spores get into open skin lesions, they cause skin infections. Infection anthrax known as Woolsorters' disease is rare and usually fatal. Intestinal anthrax which is also very rare, results from eating insufficiently cooked meat from an infected animal. It is also fatal.
Anthrax and Bioterrorism
Anthrax spores are used for bioterrorism because they are relatively easy to produce, durable and can be maintained in a dry form. However, to be effective, they must be aerosolized into very small particles. This is difficult to do and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. If these small particles are inhaled, life threatening lung infection can occur, but prompt recognition and treatment are effective.
Is Anthrax Contagious?
Anthrax is not transmitted from person to person. Patients infected with anthrax do not require isolation. Standard precautions and hand-washing with soap and water after contact with infected patients and contaminated material is recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). In the case of exposure to the spores, a person who has been exposed and is asymptomatic can be treated with anti-biotics.
Use Caution When Opening Your Mail
In light of the recent events implicating mail as the source for bioterrorism agent Anthrax, everyone should be on alert for any suspicious letters or packages. Prior to opening any letter or package, inspect the letter or package for the following:
• Senders return address
• No return address
• Sender unknown to you
• Postmark shows a different location than return address
• Sender's writing
• Unusual writing (handwritten) or printing
• Feel of envelope
• Feeling of springiness at the top, bottom or sides
If you are suspicious of a piece of mail, do not open the envelope or package. Place it into a plastic trash bag or some kind of container to prevent leakage of contents. Notify the police immediately by dialing 9-1-1.
If the envelope/package was opened and the suspicious material is found, do not clean up the spilled content. Cover it immediately (e.g. paper, trash container). Leave the room and close the door. Wash your hands with soap and water then notify the police.