Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program

Airborne and Direct Contact Diseases - Anthrax

Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. A bacterium is a very small organism made up of one cell. Many bacteria can cause disease. A spore is a cell that is dormant (asleep) but may come to life with the right conditions.

There are three types of anthrax:

  • skin (cutaneous) - The first symptom is a small sore that develops into a blister. The blister then develops into a skin ulcer with a black area in the center. The sore, blister and ulcer do not hurt.
  • lungs (inhalation) - The first symptoms of inhalation anthrax are like cold or flu symptoms and can include a sore throat, mild fever and muscle aches. Later symptoms include cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, tiredness and muscle aches. (Caution: Do not assume that just because a person has cold or flu symptoms that they have inhalation anthrax.)
  • digestive (gastrointestinal) - The first symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, and fever, followed by bad stomach pain.

Antibiotics are used to treat all three types of anthrax. Early identification and treatment are important.