Anthrax is caused by exposure to the spores of the bacteria Bacillus anthracis that become entrenched in the host body and produce lethal poisons. It is primarily a disease of grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. Pigs are more resistant, as are dogs and cats. Birds usually are naturally resistant to anthrax. Buzzards and vultures are naturally resistant to anthrax but may transmit the spores on their talons and beaks.
The bacteria that cause anthrax are able to go into a dormant phase, in which they form spores. Spores can exist in the environment for decades. Under the right conditions, the dormant spores can germinate and multiply.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies anthrax as a Category A agent with serious bioterrorism potential. If terrorists were to use the anthrax spores, they would most likely want to disperse it into the air for mass effect. As seen in October 2001, terrorists could also deliver anthrax by other means, such as placing spores in letters or packages to be opened, inhaled, and handled by unsuspecting recipients.
People of any age may be affected. Most cases are mild and go away with treatment. Anthrax, however, can be lethal. There are several ways anthrax can cause illness. These are the three main ways anthrax affects humans:
Anthrax is described in the early literature of the Greeks, Romans, and Hindus. The fifth plague, described in the book of Genesis, may be among the earliest descriptions of anthrax.
Anthrax is caused by the bacteria B. anthracis. These are rod-shaped bacteria that can change from "normal" bacteria into spores (or single-celled seeds that can reproduce the bacteria).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/7/2015
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