What is Anthrax? Message from Nevada County Health Officer Dr. Johnson




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What is Anthrax?
Message from Nevada County Health Officer Dr. Johnson

Within the past month, anthrax scares have occurred across the United States. These usually have been in the form of letters containing a powder material, often with an accompanying note advising that the recipient has been exposed to anthrax.


Anthrax is a disease that is usually associated with livestock such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. In the event of a bioterrorism incident, probable routes of exposure include: touching the powder containing the bacteria, drinking the bacteria from contaminated water or breathing bacteria through the air or ventilation systems.
How common is anthrax and who can get it?

Anthrax is more common in other parts of the world, particularly agricultural regions where it occurs in animals. These areas include South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure due to infected animals or their products. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products (industrial anthrax) from other countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with the bacteria. Anthrax infection in humans and animals rarely occurs in the United States.


What are the symptoms?

The symptoms depend on how a person is exposed to the disease.



  • Cutaneous - spores or bacteria can enter the body through cuts or breaks in the skin, causing itching, boils and formation of a black scab. Severe skin infections can result in sepsis (a bloodstream infection).

  • Ingestion - eating infected meat or drinking contaminated water will result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • Inhalation of anthrax causes chest pain and difficulty breathing and is the most severe form of the disease, usually resulting in death unless treated before the patient becomes symptomatic.


When do symptoms start?

Symptoms usually start within 1 to 7 days after exposure to the bacteria. If symptoms progressively worsen, or do not resolve within 2 days, be certain to contact your personal physician, who will contact the County Health Officer if he/she believes it is indicated.


Can I catch it from another person who is infected?

No, anthrax is not transmitted from one person to another. Standard/Universal Precautions should be used in the care of patients with anthrax. Special isolation precautions are not required.


Is there a treatment for anthrax?

High doses of penicillin, ciprofloxacin, or doxycycline can be used. All forms of the disease must be treated promptly, and inhalation anthrax is often fatal if treatment is not started promptly. It is recommended that all persons with fever or evidence of systemic disease in an area where anthrax cases are occurring should be treated for anthrax until the disease is excluded.


Preventive measures?

Spores wash off with soap and water. Clothes should be changed if contaminated. Oral ciprofloxacin or doxycycline are only indicated for known imminent exposure. A vaccine is not widely available and is only indicated for people with a high potential for exposure. Pets can be washed with soap and water or wiped with a 0.5% bleach solution.



For more information, please contact or refer to the following resources:

County Website: http://ehealth.co.nevada.ca.us/ehealth

Nevada County Department of Community Health: (530) 265-1450


Nevada County Department of Environmental Health: (530) 265-1452

Centers for Disease Control 1-800-311-3435

www.cdc.gov or www.bt.cdc.gov/

California’s Safety Information and Referral Line, 6 AM to 9 PM: 1-800-550-5234


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