Original Editor - Donald John Auson Top Contributors -

Definition[edit | edit source]

Anthrax cycle.jpg

Anthrax is an acute zoonotic disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis, a microbe that lives in the soil.[1]

  • A serious infectious disease caused by gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis.[2]
  • Anthrax can be found naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world.[2]
  • Rare in the United States - people can get sick with anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products.[2]
  • Contact with anthrax can cause severe illness in both humans and animals.[2]
  • Anthrax is not contagious, which means you can’t catch it like the cold or flu.[2]
  • Anthrax can occur in four forms: cutaneous, inhalation, gastrointestinal, and inhalation.[2]

Watch this short video for an overview of Anthrax.


Clinically Relevant Anatomy[edit | edit source]

Anthrax can affect different body systems, depending on the route of infection. It can affect the integumentary system, gastrointestinal/ digestive system and respiratory system.

Etiology[edit | edit source]

The pathogen that causes Anthrax is known as Bacillus anthracis, a spore- forming, rod-shaped, gram-positive bacterium.[4]

Epidemiology[edit | edit source]

Most cases of anthrax are cutaneous (95%); the remaining cases are inhalation (5%) and gastrointestinal (< 1%).[5] Injection Anthrax have only been reported in Northern Europe.[2][6]

Incidence of any anthrax infection has been less than 1 case per year in the US for the last 30 years. From 1955–1994, US cases totaled 235, with 224 cases of cutaneous anthrax, 11 cases of inhalation anthrax, and 20 fatalities.[5]

Anthrax is common in Middle East, the Indian subcontinent,  Africa, Asia, and Latin America and is rare in Western Europe. In 1958, approximately 100,000 cases of anthrax occurred worldwide. Anthrax is endemic in Africa and Asia despite vaccination programs.[5]

In 1978, during the Rhodesian civil war, failure of veterinary vaccination programs led to a human epidemic, causing 6500 anthrax cases and 100 fatalities.[5]

In 1982, Thailand had an outbreak of 24 cases, concurrently with 52 cases of cutaneous anthrax after ingestion of contaminated water buffalo meat.[5]

In October 2001, 22 cases of anthrax infection were identified[5] after being exposed to spores sent through the mail. Five of those who were infected died.[7] Most recently in 2016, in Siberia, Russia, there was an outbreak of anthrax that affected at least 13 Siberian people and killed over 2,000 reindeer.[6]

Risk Factors[edit | edit source]

Occupational hazard for:

  • Veterinarians
  • Farmers
  • Individuals who handle animal wool, hair, hides, or bone meal products.[5]
  • Travelers
  • Laboratory professionals
  • Mail handlers, military personnel, and response workers who may be exposed during a bioterror event involving anthrax spores[2]

There is no racial, sexual, or age predilection for anthrax. However, because anthrax is often related to industrial exposure and farming, the disease most often affects young and middle-aged adults.[5]

Pathophysiology[edit | edit source]

Anthrax can occur in four different forms, depending on the route of infection.

Cutaneous Anthrax.png Gastrointestinal Anthrax.png Inhalation Anthrax.png Injection Anthrax.png

When the spores get inside the body, from any route mentioned from above, the spores then become anthrax bacteria. Then the bacteria can multiply, spread out in the body, produce toxins (poisons), and cause severe illness. [2]

Clinical Presentation[edit | edit source]

Clinical manifestations usually happen 1-7 days after exposure from the spores.

Cutaneous Anthrax[edit | edit source]

  • Small blisters/ bumps (can be itchy)
  • Swelling
  • Painless skin sore (ulcer), most often the sore will be on the face, neck, arms, or hands[2]
  • Myalgia
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Gastrointestinal Anthrax[edit | edit source]

  • Fever and chills
  • Swelling of neck and lymph node enlargement
  • Oral bleeding
  • Sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Dysphagia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress
  • Nausea and vomiting or hematemesis
  • Diarrhea or bloody diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Flushing (red face) and red eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fainting
  • Swelling of abdomen (stomach)

Inhalation Anthrax[edit | edit source]

  • Fever and chills
  • Chest Discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tachypnea
  • Cyanosis
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Cough
  • Nausea, vomiting (hematemesis), or stomach pains
  • Headache
  • Diaphoresis
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Shock[7]
  • Meningitis[7]

Injection Anthrax[edit | edit source]

Injection anthrax has almost the same manifestation as Cutaneous Anthrax except for it could affect deeper structures and can spread more easily.[2]

  • Fever and chills
  • A group of small blisters or bumps that may itch, appearing where the drug was injected
  • A painless skin sore with a black center that appears after the blisters or bumps
  • Redness and swelling around the sore[7]
  • Abscesses deep under the skin or in the muscle where the drug was injected

Diagnosis[edit | edit source]

Diagnosis is made through history-taking for possible exposure, evaluation of signs and symptoms, diagnostic procedures, and laboratory findings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resources that can help in diagnosing and investigating anthrax. These are:

Diagnostic Procedures/ Laboratory Findings[edit | edit source]

  • Gram Staining and Blood Culture
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA)
    • ELISA to detect immunoglobulin G (IgG) response to B anthracis protective antigen (PA) is 98.6% sensitive and 80% specific. Protective antigen–competitive inhibition ELISA is used as a second confirmatory step to improve specificity.[5]
  • Chest Radiograph
    • widening of the mediastinum,paratracheal and hilar fullness, and pleural effusions[5]
  • CT Scan
    • detects hemorrhagic mediastinal and hilar lymph nodes and edema, peribronchial thickening, and pleural effusions[5]
  • Lumbar Puncture
    • CSF in patients with anthrax meningitis is grossly hemorrhagic with few polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) and numerous gram-positive bacilli.[5]
  • Histologic Findings

Management / Interventions[edit | edit source]

The CDC has a set of guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Anthrax.

Medical Management[edit | edit source]

  • Antibiotics
    • Penicillin- preferred agent used to treat nonbioterrorist anthrax
    • Doxycycline
    • Ciprofloxacin
    • Levofloxacin
    • Moxifloxacin
    • Amoxicillin
    • Vancomycin
    • Clindamycin
  • Monoclonal Antibodies
    • Raxibacumab- prophylactic agent and treatment of inhalational anthrax
    • Obiltoxaximab- treatment of inhalational anthrax
  • Human anthrax immune globulin (Anthrasil)- indicated for treatment of inhalational anthrax in adults and children in combination with antibiotic therapy.
  • Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (BioThrax)- indicated for pre-exposure prophylaxis in persons at high risk of exposure and for postexposure prophylaxis following suspected or confirmed B anthracis exposure.
  • Antitoxins

Physiotherapy Management[edit | edit source]

Patients with Anthrax infection would also benefit from physiotherapy management during their recovery phase. Physiotherapy treatments for Inhalation Anthrax would aim at chest physiotherapy and symptomatic treatment, such as:

  • Percussion and vibration
  • Fomentation
  • Coughing Techniques
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Mobilization of patient

Generally, patients may benefit from:

  • General Body Conditioning Exercises
  • Range of Motion Exercises
  • Resistive Exercises
  • Aerobic Conditioning

Differential Diagnosis[edit | edit source]

Cutaneous Anthrax[edit | edit source]

  • Bubonic Plague
  • Primary Syphyilis

Gastrointestinal Anthrax[edit | edit source]

  • Dysentery

Inhalational Anthrax[edit | edit source]

  • Pneumonia (Atypcial or Community- Acquired)
  • Bacterial Mediastinitis

Other Conditions:[edit | edit source]

  • Tularemia
  • Typhoid
  • Diphtheria
  • Psittacosis
  • Leprosy

Resources[edit | edit source]

  1. CDC- Anthrax
  2. CDC- Anthrax Bioterrorism
  3. CDC- Anthrax Resources- for additional readings

References[edit | edit source]

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institute of Health. Medline Plus. Anthrax. (accessed 2 March 2011)
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 CDC- Anthrax- Basic Information. Available at (Accessed March 30, 2020)
  3. Rehealthify. Anthrax- Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and More... Available at
  4. Annual Reviews. 2020. Anthrax. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 April 2020].
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Medscape- Anthrax. Available at (Accessed March 31, 2020)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Medicinenet- Anthrax. Available at (Accessed March 31, 2020)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Mayo Clinic- Anthrax. Available at (Accessed April 2, 2020)