Anthrax is an infection, which can be life threatening.There are 3 forms of human anthrax, depending on where anthrax enters the body:
  • Cutaneous (or skin)—due to spores entering a cut or break in the skin (most common)
  • Inhaled—from breathing airborne spores into the lungs
  • Gastrointestinal—from ingesting spores in raw or undercooked food
Once anthrax is in the body, it multiplies and releases toxins. The toxins cause swelling, bleeding, and tissue death. All forms of anthrax can cause death but inhaled anthrax has a much higher mortality rate once symptoms develop.
Anthrax Can Enter the Body Through the Lungs
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Anthrax is caused by exposure to a specific bacteria or its spores. These spores are created by the bacteria and can survive in the environment for decades. The bacteria and spores can be found in the soil and livestock like cattle and goats. It is rare, but people can contract anthrax from:
  • Infected animals
  • Infected animal products
  • Spores in the environment

Risk Factors

Risk factors for anthrax include the following:
  • Working in a laboratory with anthrax bacteria
  • Working with anthrax-infected animals or their products, such as at a farm, leather tannery, woolery, or veterinary clinic
  • Exposure to criminal acts or biologic terrorism


Symptoms usually start within a few days of exposure. They vary depending on the type of disease.

Inhalation Symptoms

Inhalation anthrax symptoms occur in stages over several days. It may start with cold or flu symptoms such as:
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
Sometimes a brief period of seeming recovery will occur followed by rapid onset of:
  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Delirium
  • Death

Cutaneous Symptoms

Symptoms may occur in stages:
  • Raised bump, like an insect bite, that is itchy and round
  • Raised area opens, forming an ulcer with a black area in the center and producing drainage of clear or pinkish fluid
  • Swelling around the wound
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

These symptoms will depend on the location of the lesions. Mouth and throat lesions can cause:These symptoms will depend on the location of the lesions. Mouth and throat lesions can cause:Lesions in the intestines can cause:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea

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