A serious disease occurring in sheep and cattle, and in those who tend them or handle the bones, skins and ﬂeeces – even long after removal of the latter from the animals. It is sometimes referred to as malignant pustule, wool-sorters’ disease, splenic fever of animals, or murrain. It is now a rare condition in the United Kingdom. The cause is a bacillus (B. anthracis) which grows in long chains and produces spores of great vitality. These spores retain their life for years, in dried skins and ﬂeeces; they are not destroyed by boiling, freezing, 5 per cent carbolic lotion, or, like many bacilli, by the gastric juice. The disease is communicated from a diseased animal to a crack in the skin (e.g. of a farmer or butcher), or from contact with contaminated skins or ﬂeeces. Nowadays skins are handled wet, but if they are allowed to dry so that dust laden with spores is inhaled by the workers, serious pneumonia may result. Instances have occurred of the disease being conveyed on shaving brushes made from bristles of diseased animals. A few countries are believed to have developed anthrax as a weapon of war to be delivered by shells or rockets, despite international agreements to ban such weapons.
In the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks on buildings in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, modiﬁed anthrax spores were sent by mail from an unidentiﬁed source to some prominent Americans. Several people were infected and a few died. This was the ﬁrst known use of anthrax as a terror weapon.
Prevention is most important by disinfecting all hides, wool and hair coming from areas of the world. An eﬃcient vaccine is now available. Treatment consists of the administration of large doses of the broad-spectrum antibiotic, CIPROFLOXACIN. If bioterrorism is thought to be the likely source of anthrax infection, appropriate decontamination procedures must be organised promptly.
EXTERNAL FORM This is the ‘malignant pustule’. After inoculation of some small wound, a few hours or days elapse, and then a red, inﬂamed swelling appears, which grows larger till it covers half the face or the breadth of the arm, as the case may be. Upon its summit appears a bleb of pus, which bursts and leaves a black scab, perhaps 12 mm (half an inch) wide. The patient is feverish and seriously ill. The inﬂammation may last ten days or so, when it slowly subsides and the patient recovers, if surviving the fever and prostration.
INTERNAL FORM This takes the form of pneumonia with haemorrhages, when the spores have been drawn into the lungs, or of ulcers of the stomach and intestines, with gangrene of the SPLEEN, when they have been swallowed.
It is usually fatal in two or three days. Victims may also develop GASTROENTERITIS or MENINGITIS.