Anthrax is a disease that is no stranger to the human race. It can be traced back to Biblical times and is the oldest known disease of animals. Moses mentions it in Exodus and so do Homer, Ovid, Pliny, and Virgil in their writings. Obviously, this disease has been around. It has many names, such as woolsorters’ disease, splenic fever, charbon in French, Milzbrand in German, and malignant pustule. Anthrax was the first infectious disease that a vaccine was found to be effective against by Louis Pasteur in 1881. The studies of Anthrax in the 18th century are the foundation for the science of bacteriology and immunology.
Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by the organism Bacillus anthracis. In certain conditions, this organism forms virulent spores that are highly resistant and contaminate soil or other materials for years. Anthrax is most common in grass grazing animals such as cows and sheep but all animals can’t get Anthrax. It can be passed on to a person who handles wool, hides, or carcass of an infected animal. Anthrax has three forms it can occur in, peracute, acute, and subacute. The peracute is the form that is most common with cattle and sheep usually is the sign of the beginning of an outbreak. It hits quick and its symptoms are convulsion, trembling, or difficulty in breathing. Often, the animal is found dead with no sign of symptoms. The acute and subacute forms are also found mainly in cattle and other grazing animals has similar symptoms to the peracute. There is a rise in the body temperature followed by convulsions, spasms, and even bloody discharges from body orifices and lumps on the body. The acute from causes death in a day or two and the subacute can either lead to death in a few days or a complete recovery.
Vaccinations of animals is the major method to prevent Anthrax. If Anthrax is treated early on with penicillin, there are good chances animals can be saved. Otherwise, quarantining the diseased animals and good sanitation are necessary to control the disease.
Anthrax in man can occur in several different ways. The most common is a localized infection on the skin which starts as pimple on the neck or a lesion on the hand or arm. These lesions grow rapidly and have a black center. They are malignant and if it left to grow will cause a fatal blood poisoning. Another way a person can be infected is if they inhale the Anthrax spores. This form of the disease, the pulmonary form, occurs in the lungs and is usually always fatal. A final way the disease can occur in a person is if a contaminated piece of meat is consumed. This is the intestinal form and has symptoms of vomiting and severe diarrhea.
The largest epidemic of Anthrax in man occurred during World War I. A large number of British and American troops were infected by shaving brushes imported from Japan. Anthrax is treatable in a person with the use of Antianthrax serum, arsenical, and antibiotics like penicillin if the disease is caught early.
Although Anthrax is one of the oldest known diseases, it is still in prevalent in the world. It continues to contaminate soil and infect animals. Although there are many safeguards to protect man people against the disease, it still occurs. Anthrax has also come back into the spotlight as the most likely candidate for biological warfare. The US government claims it is a very real threat since Anthrax can be made into a fine powder and be easily inhaled and cause certain death. Anthrax is known for its ability to stay virulent for years so it can be stored and easily put into aerosol containers and spread that way. The armed forces have conducted mass vaccinations of its troops against Anthrax.
Anthrax has even been a terrorist tool recently as several people have been sent envelopes threatening to contain Anthrax spores. The most recent occurred at a church in Buffalo, NY. Although these have been empty threats so far, the fear is real. Anthrax has been with mankind for over a millenium now and will most likely continue to be with us for the next millenium.