Anthrax or anthrax: causes, symptoms, treatment

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax has been known to humans and animals for a long time, it was one of the ten plagues of Egypt in the time of Moses. Since the introduction of the destruction law, anthrax has almost no longer occurred in the Netherlands. What are the symptoms of anthrax or anthrax, how is it diagnosed and how is the infectious disease treated?

Article content

  • Anthrax or anthrax
  • Anthrax or anthrax as a biological weapon
  • Causes of anthrax or anthrax
  • Three forms of anthrax or anthrax
  • Symptoms of anthrax or anthrax
  • Diagnosis of anthrax or anthrax
  • Treatment of anthrax or anthrax
  • Prognosis anthrax or anthrax
  • White pits and powder letters


Anthrax or anthrax

Anthrax or anthrax is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans, this is also called a zoonosis. Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The first mention of anthrax comes from the year 1491 BC (in Egypt)! Over the course of the twentieth century, disinfection procedures for wool and goat hair have been introduced and risk groups and animals can be vaccinated. The number of cases of anthrax has therefore been greatly reduced.

Anthrax or anthrax as a biological weapon

Anthrax can be produced and made suitable as a biological weapon. This was done in the 1940s by Japan, the United States, the Soviet Union and Iraq. Biological warfare uses plants, fungi, viruses, bacteria, or toxic chemicals produced by these life forms. For example, anthrax spores can be spread by spray aircraft over densely populated areas. In 2001, spores (powder) were distributed in the United States by putting them in letters: powder letters.

Causes of anthrax or anthrax

Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis. This is a bacillus that usually occurs in the soil and can lie dormant there for a long time. Bacillus anthracis can spread when animals, such as goats, graze on this soil. If people come into contact with infected animals or their products (such as goat hair), they also become infected.

Three forms of anthrax or anthrax

Anthrax can manifest itself in three ways, depending on how the bacteria enters the body.

  • Respiratory anthrax: through breathing;
  • Skin anthrax;
  • Gastrointestinal anthrax: via the gastrointestinal tract.


Symptoms of anthrax or anthrax

The symptoms depend on how the bacteria entered the body.

Cutaneous anthrax

The disease starts with pimples that are accompanied by an itchy feeling, the pimples become red and swelling occurs. The abnormal tissue, also called a lesion, becomes larger and fills with fluid. Sores develop and scabs form within a few days. Usually there is an increased body temperature and you see that the lymph nodes near the lesion become swollen. Skin anthrax is usually seen on parts of the body that are not covered, such as the face, arms, hands, neck and throat.

Respiratory anthrax or breathing anthrax

Also called wool sorters disease. The spores of bacteria enter the lungs through inhalation. After inhalation, the spores multiply in the lymph nodes in the center of the chest. They cause inflammation of the lymph nodes, also called lymphadenitis. Fluid containing blood accumulates in the pleural space. Symptoms: increased body temperature, shortness of breath, feeling tired, unclear pain and general malaise. Complications: the infection can spread through the blood and this can lead to meningitis. Bleeding may also occur in the area around the brain. Furthermore, it is possible that pneumonia will develop, then you will see symptoms such as increasing shortness of breath and the oxygen level in the blood will drop.

Gastrointestinal anthrax

By eating contaminated meat or because someone has been exposed to something else, the infection reaches the pharynx or gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms: increased body temperature, sore throat, ulcers with scabs in the throat, swelling of the neck or throat. Furthermore, this form of anthrax can cause terrible pain in the abdomen and swelling of the abdomen due to accumulation of bloody fluid in the abdominal cavity.

Diagnosis of anthrax or anthrax

  • The bacteria that cause the infection can be detected in a laboratory by staining it and examining it under a microscope. Skin tests and blood tests can also be done in specialized centers to diagnose the infection.
  • In respiratory anthrax, swabs of the nasal cavity and saliva samples can provide confirmation. Chest X-ray examination and a CT scan may also be performed. These tests can detect enlarged lymph nodes in the center of the chest. An epidural puncture or examining fluid in the abdominal cavity can also help to identify the bacteria.
  • Skin anthrax can be diagnosed by examining the skin.


Treatment of anthrax or anthrax

If someone has one or more of the symptoms of anthrax, they will probably be hospitalized and receive long-term treatment with antibiotics. Sometimes corticosteroids are given for respiratory anthrax. It is important that the functioning of the crucial organs is supported.
In the United States there is a vaccine for anthrax, which is given to soldiers with certain duties. The vaccine has quite a few side effects. It is not available to other people. There is no anthrax vaccine available for use in humans in the Netherlands. Vaccination of risk groups is not considered necessary because the disease is so rare. A live attenuated vaccine is available for animals in our country.

Prognosis anthrax or anthrax

Skin anthrax can be very serious but can usually be cured with (long-term) treatment with antibiotics. Respiratory anthrax has almost always been considered fatal in the past, but in 2001 several people were successfully treated.

White pits and powder letters

Since 1942 it has been forbidden to bury dead animals (carcasses), they must be burned. But before then, it sometimes happened that animals that had died of anthrax were buried. This happened in pits with quicklime, which were therefore called white pits. You can still encounter these pits today and there is still a risk of contamination with anthrax. Spores can penetrate the skin if the skin is damaged. On the RIVM website, among others, you can find guidelines that must be followed if you find a so-called white hole, for example during excavation work. On the same website you can also find instructions on what to do if you find a letter that may contain traces of Bacillus anthracis.

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