Everything about Anthrax

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. Normally, it occurs very rarely in humans. It is more likely to be found in ungulates, which, however, can transmit the anthrax pathogen if they come into close contact with humans. Cutaneous anthrax is the most common in humans. Unfortunately, there are also biological warfare agents based on the anthrax pathogen.

What is anthrax?

Anthrax, also known as anthrax, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. This occurs mainly in herbivorous animals and can also infect humans through intensive contact with them. The term anthrax goes back to the enlarged and “burned” looking spleen.┬áSee AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Anthrax.

Anthrax is mainly found in warmer countries. Hoofed animals such as horses, goats, cattle, pigs and sheep are increasingly affected. This is also the reason why people who come into contact with these animals or their products are particularly at risk. In Germany, however, there have been very few cases of anthrax in recent years.


The cause of anthrax is infection with a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. This bacterium forms spores and in this way reduces its vital functions to a minimum, which in turn allows it to survive for years. In addition, the pathogen has a special protein capsule that enables it to escape animal and human defense mechanisms. On top of that, the bacterium itself forms toxins when it is destroyed, which are then passed on to the organism.

These toxins damage blood vessels, making them passable for red blood cells. As a result, inflammation and bleeding occurs in the human or animal organism. As a result, there is swelling of the affected tissue, which is preferably the skin, lungs or intestines.

Anthrax can be transmitted in a number of ways. Minor skin injuries are usually directly infected with anthrax spores, resulting in cutaneous anthrax. In contrast, inhalation anthrax, in which people become infected through the respiratory tract and the associated inhalation of spores, is rarer. Intestinal anthrax is also rare and is transmitted through raw meat or untreated fresh milk.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Depending on how the anthrax pathogens got into the body, different symptoms and symptoms can occur. If the pathogens penetrated through a skin tear or an inflamed area, swelling and blisters develop in the affected area. Over time, the growths develop into an ulcer, which in turn forms black scabs.

As a result of injuries to the veins, hematomas develop in the surrounding region. If the bacteria were inhaled, the first symptoms appear after three to ten days. Then there are typical flu symptoms such as fever, chills, exhaustion and malaise. As the disease progresses, breathing difficulties and a dry cough can occur.

If the symptoms appear after consuming contaminated food, an illness phase of three to seven days can be expected. In addition to general symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal complaints such as diarrhea, loss of appetite or heartburn also occur during this period. Bleeding in the intestinal tract can also occur, which is manifested by bloody diarrhea and vomiting blood.

Edema can form in the abdominal area. In addition, ulcers and infections occur, which can be localized in different parts of the body. With appropriate treatment, the symptoms subside after a few days or weeks. In severe cases, the disease is fatal.

Course of the disease

The course of the anthrax depends entirely on the form of the anthrax. Intestinal and pulmonary anthrax, for example, lead to death after a maximum of three days if treatment is delayed or not treated at all. In addition, there is a high probability that blood poisoning will develop as a result of the anthrax, regardless of the type. This can manifest itself, among other things, with fever, skin bleeding, spleen enlargement or circulatory shock. In about 20 percent, this leads to death if left untreated. With timely antibiotic therapy, however, the death rate from anthrax is extremely minimized.


Depending on its form, anthrax can cause a number of serious complications of the lungs, skin, and intestines. In lung anthrax, bronchitis-like symptoms such as coughing up blood, vomiting and chills appear first. This can lead to severe respiratory impairment, often resulting in acute shortness of breath and suffocation.

In the course of skin anthrax, skin damage such as eczema and edema occurs, which can become inflamed. The lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes can become inflamed and swollen as the disease progresses, combined with an increased susceptibility to infections and an intense feeling of illness. Intestinal anthrax can progress to peritonitis, causing intestinal perforation, sepsis, and other complications.

It is accompanied by intestinal bleeding and diarrhea, causing infection and dehydration. Rarely, severe meningitis can develop from an anthrax infection. In anthrax therapy, the prescribed anti-body drugs sometimes cause serious side effects.

The commonly used drug Ciprobay can trigger allergic reactions, seizures, anxiety and depression, among other things. Surgical interventions are associated with a high risk of sepsis. Postoperative bleeding, excessive scarring and severe sensory disturbances can also occur.

When should you go to the doctor?

Since anthrax is a serious infectious disease, a doctor should be consulted in any case. Early diagnosis and treatment have a very positive effect on the course of the disease. The doctor should be consulted if the person concerned has been bitten by an animal and the bite wound has become infected. An ulcer there can also indicate anthrax and should always be examined by a doctor. The disease also makes itself felt through exhaustion, fever or chills.

Those affected appear ill, tired and can no longer actively participate in everyday life. In many cases, there is a severe cough or other breathing difficulties. It is not uncommon for loss of appetite or heartburn to indicate anthrax. The condition can be diagnosed and treated by a general practitioner or in a hospital. There is usually a positive, uncomplicated course of the disease. Early diagnosis always has a positive effect on the further course of the disease.

Treatment & Therapy

Anthrax should be treated early with antibiotics. Even if there is suspicion, this should be done as a preventive measure and should last for 60 days. In the case of cutaneous anthrax, treatment should be with penicillin. In the case of intestinal and lung anthrax, on the other hand, doxycycline or ciprofloxacin must be used. In addition, the specific symptoms must be treated with painkillers and the affected parts of the body must be immobilized.

However, any surgical interventions in the case of skin anthrax are prohibited, since the risk of blood poisoning in this case would simply be far too high. On top of that, those affected should be isolated. However, people who have come into contact with anthrax but are not yet ill must also be treated. In this case, antibiotics are used coupled with an anthrax vaccine.

Outlook & Forecast

The overall prognosis for anthrax in humans is poor. The exact prognosis depends on the location of the anthrax infection and the availability of antibiotics. Intestinal anthrax and lung anthrax are fatal in most cases if left untreated. In the case of intestinal anthrax, about 50 percent of people treated with medication also die.

Cutaneous anthrax has the best chance of healing of all manifestations of anthrax: A dose of antibiotics is usually sufficient if the disease has not yet spread throughout the body. The affected skin areas can heal again with good wound cleaning and adequate protection. Scarring usually occurs. Even if left untreated, a maximum of one fifth of cases ends fatally.

In inhalational anthrax, most patients die about three to six days after full symptoms appear. Surviving patients sometimes have severe damage to their lungs and their breathing can be permanently impaired. Intestinal anthrax is also often fatal. The pathogen can spread to other organs quite quickly and trigger various infections, which is the reason for the high lethality.

Although anthrax is treatable, the toxins released are so dangerous in advanced disease that even drugs often fail to avert death. Prompt treatment is therefore important for a good chance of successful treatment.


Infectious diseases often need good follow-up care after they have healed. It aims to strengthen the immune system, regenerate those affected and, above all, to prevent the disease from flaring up again. For anthrax, follow-up care focuses primarily on wound healing. It is important to ensure that the affected skin area remains free of dirt to prevent further infection. This is accomplished by carefully covering the area, but also by leaving a scab on the skin until it falls off on its own. It is also important not to start sporting activities too early if the person concerned is not fit enough for it.

Due to the strong side effects that can occur when taking the medication, those affected are sometimes taken by anxiety and depressive moods, and allergic reactions and seizures are also possible. Scarring, bleeding and severe sensory disturbances can occur after the procedure, which is why close observation of the healing process is necessary. A gentle mode with sufficient sleep and the help of friends and acquaintances increase well-being and stimulate recovery.

You can do that yourself

Patients suffering from anthrax must first and foremost take it easy. Strict bed rest and stress avoidance apply for the first few days . With regard to nutrition, the following is recommended: drink a lot and eat foods that strengthen the immune system. In addition to classics such as rusks and meat broth, fruit and vegetables and hot chamomile or ginger tea also help.

In addition, the respective symptoms must be counteracted in a targeted manner. Cold compresses help with fever, while coughing and shortness of breath can be relieved by inhaling a saline solution. A hot bath is best for chills. A proven natural remedy is the bark of the red cinchona tree, which is brewed and drunk in small sips.

If the symptoms are severe, the doctor should prescribe a mild antipyretic drug. Nausea and vomiting usually disappear after one or two days, during which time care should be taken to ensure a gentle diet and the stomach should be soothed with warm pads. If the symptoms do not subside after a few days, you must definitely go to the doctor again with anthrax. In the event of complications such as blood poisoning or meningitis, the nearest hospital should be consulted immediately.