How much damage can anthrax cause



Anthrax or anthrax is a bacterial disease that is usually severe. It can affect the skin, lungs or intestines. It is caused by the pathogen Bacillus anthraciswhich produces the highly toxic anthrax toxin. The disease is transmitted through animals, especially pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and horses.


Anthrax has become very rare in developed countries. The main distribution areas are Africa, Central and South Asia. The pathogen prefers a warm and humid environment. The spores can survive in the soil for decades. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 2,000 people worldwide develop skin anthrax. Lung and intestinal anthrax are much less common.

Anthrax is also classified as a dangerous biological weapon that can wreak havoc in the hands of terrorists.


Since the anthrax pathogen is transmitted by animals, people who work with farm animals or animal products such as wool, milk, meat or bone meal are particularly at risk. Infection occurs through the smallest injuries to the skin (skin anthrax), inhalation of the pathogens (pulmonary anthrax) or the consumption of contaminated meat (intestinal anthrax). The body's own defense reaction against the pathogen releases toxins, which in turn damage the blood vessels.


Depending on the route of infection, anthrax takes a different course:

Skin anthrax is the most common and least severe form of anthrax, accounting for 95% of cases. One to seven days after infection, inflammatory skin changes develop at the infection site. Fluid-filled blisters and swellings (edema) also appear, and later black scabs. Swelling of the lymph nodes is also typical. Most skin anthrax heals spontaneously, but without treatment 5? 25% of cases fatal.

Pulmonary anthrax caused by inhaling anthrax spores. The incubation period lasts from a few hours to a few days. The first symptoms are cough, fever, headache, vomiting and difficulty breathing. Because the early stages are similar to pneumonia, it's difficult to make the correct diagnosis right away. The infection quickly develops into a life-threatening disease with coughing up blood, shortness of breath and circulatory failure. Without antibiotic therapy, the disease leads to death within a few days.

Intestinal anthrax is transmitted through eating contaminated meat. This form of anthrax is very rare. The first signs of illness are abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and loss of appetite. In the further course bloody diarrhea and peritonitis develop. Even with medical treatment, intestinal anthrax is difficult to control; if left untreated, it leads to death.

Injection anthrax occurred in some cases after injecting contaminated heroin. The skin around the puncture site becomes inflamed and severe swelling forms. Tissue parts can die off or blood poisoning can progress rapidly.


In the case of anthrax, diagnosis as early as possible is crucial, as the chances of survival are better if treatment is started at an early stage of the disease. Patients should therefore inform the doctor if they have come into contact with farm animals or their products.

To make the diagnosis, the doctor will both swab the wound and take a blood sample. There are reference centers for anthrax that specialize in detecting the pathogen. Anthrax is notifiable in Germany.

Treatment / therapy

Anthrax can be treated with a high-dose combination of antibiotics. In severe cases of cutaneous anthrax, tissue sometimes needs to be surgically removed. The cure rate of skin anthrax is 99% with treatment. With the other forms of anthrax, the likelihood of a complete recovery is much lower.

Oral antibiotic prophylaxis should be performed if anthrax exposure is suspected.


A vaccine against anthrax does exist, but it is not available in Germany.

To protect against anthrax, skin contact with ungulates and raw animal products should be avoided. In industrialized countries, however, an anthrax infection is very rare. Human-to-human transmission has not yet been observed.