NSGD 209 Infectious Disease
27 November 2012
ANTHRAX: THE SILENT KILLER
In today’s society the threat of bioterrorism is ever present. With recent attacks on US soil it brings the threat and fear to the forefront of the mind. This brings up questions that each and everyone has to answer. These questions consist of what agents are out there? Where they come from? The potential these agents have for mass destruction? What methods of detection are there available, if any? How to prioritize emergency responses? Perhaps most importantly how to prevent such outbreaks.
Throughout history there has been various agents that cause mass destruction. Some of these agents are weapons and others are biological. Weapons can bring immediate destruction and cause widespread fear. However, biological weapons are not always easily detected and can cause extreme longterm destruction. It was common practice in days of old to poison food or water supplies. Today terrorists use the same practices and have evolved into aerosol attacks as well.
Anthrax is a potential biological weapon. Anthrax is a naturally occurring bacteria; Bacillus anthracis, that can be found in the soil. However the spores stay in the soil and therefore is usually not fatal to humans. Recently anthrax can be made in a laboratory. C.J. Davaine was the first to identify the causative agent of anthrax in 1863 and a pure culture was developed by Robert Koch in 1876. Anthrax is common among many mammalian species such as cows, antelopes, sheep, goats, and camels. Humans can be affected when handling the hide of infected animals. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) this disease is highly virulent and contagious. There have been descriptions of anthrax throughout antiquity with the earliest incident recorded by the Roman poet Virgil. Virgil’s description of the Black Bane is were 60,000 cattle died in the 17th century and is thought of being the fifth plague of Egypt.
There are three types of anthrax infection: cutaneous, inhalation, and gastrointestinal. The first of these is cutaneous or through the skin, in particular a cut in the skin. The skin is the body’s first line of defense and if compromised a host of bacteria are waiting to infect. Anthrax is no different with approximately 95% of the infections of anthrax being contracted through this manner. Usually people who get infected by anthrax via cutaneous infection are those handling contaminated animal byproducts such as hides, wool, and other hair products. Signs and symptoms of an anthrax cutaneous infection are having a raised bump on the skin similar to an insect bite that is itchy. After one to two days the bump becomes a vesicle and eventually an ulcer. This is usually painless. The ulcer is approximately one to three centimeters in diameter and usually has a necrotic center. In addition the lymph nodes that are close in approximately to the ulcer will swell. With proper medical treatment, mainly consisting of antimicrobial therapy, death is rare with cutaneous infections. However, if left untreated death can result according to the CDC.
The second type of infection known for anthrax and perhaps the scariest is inhalation. There are no way to avoid inhalation of the anthrax, especially if one does not know that it is present in the environment. This is why inhalation of anthrax is a favorite among terrorists. Anthrax is colorless and odorless. Many people who are infected with anthrax through inhalation infection will not realize it as the initial symptoms are similar to the common cold or flu. The inhalation of the anthrax affects the lungs and can cause hemorrhage. In some cases the anthrax infection can spread from the lungs to the brain. This infection is almost a certainly fatal.
The third type of infection is gastrointestinal that is usually transported through infected...