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Anthrax

Many Facilities in communities around the country have received anthrax threat letters. Most were empty envelopes. Some have contained powder substances. Anthrax has been linked back to the fifth and sixth plaques of Egypt around 1500 BC. In the early 1700s it first appeared in North America in Louisiana. In Kentucky at about 1824 cutaneous anthrax appeared among cowboys on cattle ranches. Germany, Russia, and Japan conducted extensive research toward the use of anthrax as a biological weapon in the 1930s. Several countries produced anthrax during World War II but Japan was the only country to use it as a biological warfare agent. Japan produced mass quantities of anthrax from 1939 until 1945. The bacterium B. anthracis is what causes anthrax. It is primarily a disease of plant-eating animals such as cattle or sheep. The spores are extremely resistant to environmental factors. B. Anthracis spores can remain dormant or viable for several decades under the right environmental conditions. There are four forms of anthrax: Cutaneous, Inhalation, Intestinal, and oropharyngeal. The actual incubation period of anthrax is 1 to 7 days, with most cases occurring within two days of exposure. The infection usually lasts from 3 to 5 days. Anthrax is not spread person to person. Cutaneous anthrax also known as woolsorter’s disease or ragpicker’s disease occurs through either abraded skin or through small breaks in the epidermis of the skin. The first signs start with irritated itching where it came in contact or exposed to the skin. Within a few hours the affected area appears as a small, red discolored spot on the skin. The known symptoms for the early stages are discomfort (malaise), fever, headache, and exhaustion. Within about 4 days or the “active” phase of the disease most people have significant fever, possibly blood poisoning, and meningitis can occur. More than 95 % of anthrax cases are cutaneous. A large dose of inhalation anthrax is 8,000 to 10,000 spores. The particle size is smaller than 5 microns. This causes septicemia (blood poisoning) or hemorrhagic inflammation of the lymph nodes. People usually die after 24-36 hours after exposure and it occurs in 95 to 100 percent of untreated cases. This is the type of anthrax expected to occur in biological warfare. The least common, naturally occurring form and most fatal is intestinal anthrax. A person usually comes into contact with it by ingestion of uncooked or undercooked infected foods. Some of the symptoms of intestinal anthrax are severe protracted vomiting, fever, signs of blood poisoning, and bloody diarrhea. In the early stages the symptoms are quite mild and nonspecific. The most common ways to contract oropharyngeal anthrax is either through breathing or eating. This happens when the spores are large enough to stay in the nasal passages or mouth and cause infection. Those infected develop fever, edema, and enlargement of the lymph nodes in the neck or under the jaw. To prevent deaths due to anthrax early diagnosis in necessary. Unfortunately a correct diagnosis is not easily done, because the symptoms are not unique to anthrax. Vaccination with the use of antibiotics is the best form of treatment. Penicillin or tetracycline is used for mild cutaneous cases. Tetracycline is not usually prescribed for children until after all their permanent teeth have come in, because it can permanently discolor teeth that are still forming. Blood cultures, CSF culture, chest X-rays, spinal taps, and a serologic test are all different forms of tests that can be conducted to detect anthrax. All over the world anthrax can be found. The developing countries or countries without veterinary health programs are where anthrax is more common. In those countries vaccination level of animal herds are low, so people should avoid contact with meat that has not been properly slaughtered and cooked. Anthrax is considered the typical biological warfare agent. Its ability to form spores makes anthrax well equipped for missiles and bombs. The release of Bacillus anthracis spores can be spread by small devices using explosives, generators that user either explosives or compressed air, or spray devices using either single or double nozzle systems. Other delivery systems include the common garden spray tank, insect foggers. And fire extinguishers. Anthrax would most likely be spread in aerosol form. The aerosol form or aerosol cloud could be spread from a line source such as and aircraft flying upwind. It could also be dispersed as a point source such as a spray device.


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