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What is it and how does it spread?

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The bacteria form spores that can live in the soil for many years. The infection is spread by the spores. Anthrax usually occurs in farm animals such as cows and sheep. It is uncommon in humans. People at risk for anthrax are those who handle infected animals. Suspected human cases are reportable to the Health Unit immediately. There are 3 types of anthrax that can happen in people.

Cutaneous anthrax: people get through the skin. It makes black, coal-like lesions.

Pulmonary anthrax: people get through breathing in spores in the air. Signs and symptoms of this anthrax look like a common cold and can become severe with breathing problems and shock.

Gastrointestinal tract anthrax: people can get from eating meat from an animal that died of anthrax. This version of the disease can result in fever, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and other gastrointestinal problems.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Anthrax spores can affect the skin (cutaneous infection), the stomach (gastrointestinal infection) or the lungs (inhalational infection).

In a skin infection, a small painless bump appears on the skin. This bump then becomes a blister and then an ulcer with a black center. This is the most common type of infection.

In a stomach infection, the signs are fever, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.

In a lung infection, the first signs resemble the flu. Symptoms may include fever, sore throat and feeling unwell. After several days, this is followed by having trouble breathing. This is the most serious type of infection.

Signs of illness usually do not appear until 1 to 7 days after exposure to the anthrax spores.

Is it contagious?

Anthrax is not spread from one person to another person. People can become infected by having direct or indirect contact with infected animals or carcasses or exposure to infected or contaminated animal products.

How is it treated?

It is important to treat anthrax immediately with antibiotics.

How can it be prevented?

Workplaces which process animal products should have adequate ventilation systems including local exhaust system to reduce dust levels. Workers who handle raw animal materials should be informed about modes of transmission. Workers should follow good personal hygiene practices including care of skin. Workers should use adequate protective clothing and facilities for washing and changing clothes after work. Health Canada recommends that laboratory workers who work with anthrax should follow biosafety level 3 practices in appropriately designed and maintained facilities.

Health Care Providers

Suspected human cases are reportable to the Health Unit immediately by telephone.  The Health Unit will use the Anthrax The Ontario Public Health Laboratories will assist in confirmation of suspect cultures for anthrax, as well as consultation with physicians on suspect cases. Physicians MUST contact the Central Public Health Laboratory PRIOR to the submission of cultures and/or specimens.