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What Is Anthrax?

Can You Die From Anthrax?

Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthrax. There are actually three forms or anthrax: cutaneous, pulmonary (lungs), and gastrointestinal (digestive system). Anthrax is common in nature, and prior to the advent of a vaccine in the late 19th century, the disease killed many humans and animals. Now, the disease is uncommon. The cutaneous form of the disease is usually acquired by people handling dead animal carcasses infected with bacteria. This form of the disease is rarely fatal if diagnosed and treated. The gastrointestinal form of the disease is extremely rare and is caused by ingesting infected meat. Gastrointestinal anthrax has a mortality (death) rate of 25% to 30%. Pulmonary anthrax is the most feared form of the disease. This is acquired through inhalation of spores. Historically, mortality rates of inhalation anthrax have been over 90%; however, aggressive therapy has decreased that to around 50%.

How Likely Is a Wide-Scale Attack With Anthrax?

Although there is great fear about a bioterror attack with anthrax, it is most likely to be seen in small attacks like the one seen in 2001 in the United States. Only 22 people were infected, and five died. While this is a tragedy, it is unlikely that anyone, other than a government, would have the resources to produce large quantities of weapons-grade anthrax. Even if the anthrax is produced in large quantities, it is hard to deliver it against a population.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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