Anthrax is a reportable disease in Oklahoma. Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in warm-blooded animals, but can also infect humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals. Infection in humans most often involves the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, or the lungs
People generally develop symptoms of anthrax by having contact with Bacillus anthracis in one of three ways:
- Cutaneous – Most anthrax infections (95%) occur when people touch contaminated animal products like wool, bones, hair, or hides. The infection occurs when the bacteria enters a cut or other opening on the skin. This type of infection is called cutaneous anthrax.
- Inhalation – Some anthrax infections occur when people breathe in the spores of the bacteria. However, a person has to be exposed to a large number of spores (8,000-10,000) to be infected in this manner. This type of infection is called inhalation anthrax.
- Ingestion – Some people may get anthrax by eating infected meat that has not been properly cooked. This type of infection is called gastrointestinal anthrax.
Symptoms of disease vary depending on type of exposure to Bacillus anthracis. The symptoms of the three types of anthrax infections are listed below:
- Cutaneous anthrax: The first symptom is a small sore that develops into a blister. The blister then develops into a skin ulcer with a black area in the center. The sore, blister, and ulcer do not hurt. If left untreated, serious complications may occur. Death occurs in five percent to 20% of untreated cases.
- Inhalation anthrax: The first symptoms of inhalation anthrax are generally mild like those of the flu including a sore throat, cough, mild fever, and muscle aches. However, three to five days later, the symptoms progress to a high fever, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, lips and skin turning blue, decreased blood pressure, organ failure, and death. Inhalation anthrax is a rare condition.
- Gastrointestinal anthrax: The first symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, and fever, followed by bad stomach pain. Over the next few days, symptoms progress to a high fever, chills, changes in mental state, decreased blood pressure, organ failure, and death. Death occurs in 25% to 60% of cases. Gastrointestinal anthrax is an extremely rare condition.
For all three types of anthrax, symptoms can appear within seven days to 60 days after exposure. Anthrax is not spread person-to-person. Although anthrax can be found anywhere in the world, it is most common in agricultural regions where it occurs in wild and domestic animals, including, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores. Areas of the world currently listed as high risk are South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.