Anthrax Symptoms and Causes


Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis . Depending on the area where the body is affected, it can be called skin, respiratory tract and gastrointestinal anthrax.

Anthrax is not transmitted from person to person, it is usually transmitted from infected animals. Skin anthrax is caught by handling the skin or wool of infected animals.

In 2000, it was believed that the disease was deliberately transmitted, and there was concern that the anthrax germ was being used as a weapon. Many countries have researched and tried anthrax microbe as a biological weapon. Anthrax is an effective weapon because it causes deadly infections and its spores are resistant to transport by various means. Due to these characteristics, it is a potential weapon for terrorists.


The signs and outcomes of the three types of infections vary:

  • Dermal anthrax is the most common form and can occur as a result of contact with contaminated meat, wool, leather or animal skin, and bacteria that enter through an incision or skin scrape usually cause anthrax. The incubation period is from 1 to 12 days. The infection starts as an insect bite-like blister and within days it opens and turns into a black painless ulcer in the middle. Nearby lymph nodes may swell. About 20% of untreated cases result in death. However, those who are treated with antibiotics rarely die.
  • Respiratory anthrax is the deadliest form and is transmitted by breathing in spores. Although the incubation period is believed to be between 1-7 days, it can usually be up to 60 days. Initially it resembles a viral respiratory infection characterized by sore throat, mild fever, muscle aches and malaise. This initial phase can last for hours or several days. The second stage may develop suddenly with findings such as shortness of breath, fever, shock, meningitis and respiratory failure. It has a high mortality rate. Despite medical treatment, including antibiotics, after the symptoms of the disease appear, mortality rates can reach 75%.
  • Gastrointestinal anthrax is associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked meat. Anthrax microbe has an incubation period of 1-7 days. Disease symptoms include severe abdominal pain and fever. Disease symptoms may be concentrated in the pharynx (tongue base sores, sore throat, fever, and enlarged lymph nodes) or in the lower segments of the intestines (nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting blood, and bloody diarrhea). Mortality rate is between 25-60%.


Anthrax tests fall into two categories. The first type of tests is related to the presence and exposure of anthrax in the environment, and the second types are related to infection. Although nasal secretion swab tests can reveal spores and thus exposure, a positive test does not indicate infection. A person exposed to spores will not become ill until the spores open. This process can take up to 60 days. Therefore, nasal secretion swabs are not recommended to indicate exposure or disease to anthrax.

The diagnosis of anthrax infection is made by culture detection of bacteria in the sample (eg, blood, skin wounds, and respiratory secretions) appropriate to the suspected disease form, or  by measuring antibodies in the blood. A chest X-ray for inhaled anthrax and  analysis of cerebrospinal fluid may be helpful if signs of meningitis   are present  .

 It may take several hours or days to obtain the culture result of a sample from a medium source of infection or a bodily fluid such as blood . The sample is  seeded in an artificial medium in which bacteria can grow. Classical biochemical tests are then performed to identify the bacteria and susceptibility testing to select the best antibiotic for treatment  .  

A rapid test has been developed that can be used on both the source of infection in the environment and the samples taken from body fluid. This test eliminates the need for culturing and detects  anthrax DNA directly.


Although a preventive vaccine is available for anthrax, it is recommended for use by military personnel or personnel in laboratories who come into contact with B. anthracis . It is not widely used for society.

Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics if medical intervention is started early, before symptoms worsen. Antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, doxycycline and amoxicillin are recommended for treatment, and drugs such as doxycycline and ciprofloxacin are recommended in case of exposure or suspicion. Since spores live for a long time, a 60-day preventive treatment is recommended.

Sources of the article

Roche Diagnostics: LightCycler: Kits for microbiology research.

Phone call. Lee Asse, Mayo Clinic public affairs, 3/8/02.

Phone call. Sharon Sheridan, Roche Diagnostics, 4/19/02.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FAQ’s about Anthrax and more.

CDC. Anthrax. through

CDC. “Notice to Readers: Considerations for Distinguishing Influenza-Like Illness from Inhalational Anthrax.”

Mayo Clinic: “What is Anthrax?”

Mayo Clinic: “Biological Warfare: Questions and answers.”

Medline Plus Health Information, Medical Encyclopedia. “Anthrax.”

Journal of the American Medical Association. “Anthrax as a biological weapon.”

CDC. Inhalation anthrax associated with dried animal hides — Pennsylvania and New York City, 2006. MMWR 55(10) 280-282.

USPS Emergency Preparedness Plan. Protecting Postal Employees and Postal Customers from Exposure to Biohazardous Material and for Ensuring Mail Security Against Bioterror Attacks. March 6, 2002. ( Aralık  2006)

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