A Moment of Science

Anthrax

Until recently, for many of us anthrax was the name of a mid-80s heavy metal band. Now, unfortunately, we know anthrax as a deadly disease that threatens our safety. One way to protect ourselves is to know what anthrax is, and what causes it.

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium. Spore-forming means that the bacterial cells are at rest until they are exposed to favorable conditions for growth, for example when they come into contact with something they can infect.

Anthrax typically occurs among cattle, sheep, goats, and similar animals. Most human anthrax infections occur as a result of handling diseased animals. Once the bacterium enters a cut or abrasion on the skin, it eventually creates a rash consisting of itchy bumps with black marks in the center. With proper treatment this kind of anthrax infection is easily curable.

Eating anthrax-ridden meat results in a more serious infection. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and severe diarrhea. Even with prompt care, there is an almost 50% chance of death in these cases.

The most deadly form of infection occurs through inhalation. What at first seems like a cold results in serious breathing problems, shock, and in most cases death.The best way to avoid anthrax is to stay away from livestock and slaughtered meat in countries where the disease is likely to occur. Although it’s difficult to protect against an attack using anthrax as a biological weapon since the spores are odorless, colorless, and tasteless, it may help to know something about the disease.

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