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New York State Department of Health
Communicable Disease Fact Sheet
Anthrax
(malignant edema, woolsorters' disease)

What is anthrax?

Anthrax is a bacterial disease that can infect all warm blooded animals including man.


Who gets anthrax?

Anthrax is primarily an occupational disease. It is occasionally identified in individuals who are exposed to dead animals and animal products such as wool and hair.


How is anthrax spread?

The anthrax bacteria can live in the soil for many years. Man may become infected with anthrax by inhaling contaminated soil particles or by handling wool or hair from diseased animals. Infection of the intestinal tract can occur by eating undercooked meat from diseased animals.


What are the symptoms of anthrax?

The symptoms vary depending upon the type of exposure. With skin exposure, a boil-like lesion appears which eventually forms a black center. A swelling of the lymph gland under the arm may occur. With respiratory exposure, symptoms may resemble the common cold and may progress to severe breathing problems and even death.


How soon after infection do symptoms appear?

The incubation period is usually within seven days.


When and for how long is a person able to spread anthrax?

There are no reports of the disease spreading from human to human.


Does past infection with anthrax make a person immune?

A second attack with this disease is unlikely.


What is the treatment for anthrax?

Penicillin is the drug of choice but tetracycline may also be prescribed.


What can be the effect of not being treated for anthrax?

The disease could be fatal in untreated cases.


What can be done to prevent the spread of anthrax?

Anthrax vaccine is available for people in high-risk occupations. To prevent anthrax, carefully handle dead animals suspected of having anthrax; provide good ventilation when processing hides, fur, hair or wool; and vaccinate animals.


New York State Department of Health

Send questions or comments to: nyhealth@health.state.ny.us
Revised: February 1999

 

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