What Is Anthrax?
Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by specific bacteria. It can occur in humans when they have been exposed to contaminated animals or tissue from these animals.
Different types of anthrax infections can occur. These include:
Skin infection causing:
- Skin ulcers
Gastrointestinal infection causing:
- Sore throat
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swollen lymph glands
Inhaled infection—this is the most serious form and can cause:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Breathing problems
- Brain inflammation
Anthrax is treated with antibiotics. All forms of anthrax can be fatal, especially if not treated.
What Is the Anthrax Vaccine?
The anthrax vaccine protects against anthrax. It does not contain cells that cause anthrax.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
The following people aged 18 to 65 years should get vaccinated. Those who:
- Are lab workers who may come into contact with the bacteria that causes anthrax
- Certain people who handle animals and animal products
- Certain people in the military who risk exposure to anthrax as a biological warfare weapon
These people should get 5 doses of the vaccine in the muscle. The first dose should be given when there is risk of exposure. The other 4 doses should be given at 4 weeks and 6, 12, and 18 months after the first dose.
What Are the Risks Associated With the Anthrax Vaccine?
Risks associated with the anthrax vaccine include:
- Common, mild side effects include a reaction at the injection site—Soreness, redness, itching, a lump, or a bruise
- Rare, but serious risks include a serious allergic reaction—This condition is usually associated with anaphylaxis, which is an extreme allergic response.
- Other serious adverse events may also occur.
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
Those who should not get vaccinated include:
- Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of anthrax vaccine or any vaccine component
- People with Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Those who are very sick
What Other Ways Can Anthrax Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?
You can prevent anthrax if you:
- Take precautions when dealing with animals or animal products that could possibly be contaminated the bacteria that causes anthrax.
- Begin a course of antibiotic treatment if you have been exposed to anthrax.
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
It is not believed that anthrax can be spread from person to person. If an outbreak occurred and a large number of people were exposed to the bacteria, the US would give antibiotics and vaccines to everyone who was exposed.
- David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Reviewed: 05/2014
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