Anthrax is a bacteria-caused disease affects mammals of the bovine and caprine species, and it causes fatal deaths in humans. The most affected domestic animals include goats, sheep, cattle and horses. It is a fatal disease in animals owing to the fact that, it is transmitted from one herbivorous animal to another the same way as other zoonotic diseases. Humans acquire anthrax through three principal means: the skin, gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. Anthrax toxins cause fatal effects on the central nervous system, the brain and heart. It is believed that the symptoms and signs presented in anthrax infection are as a result of the toxic effects on some vital organs and systems.
The treatment of anthrax depends on the form of anthrax involved although therapeutic agents target the disease causing pathogen, Bacillus anthracis. As such, antibiotics are used to destroy the anthrax causing bacteria. Some of the most potent antibiotics include penicillin, ciprofloxacin and doxycycline.
Despite the fatality associated with anthrax, reliable preventive and control measures reduce the risk of the disease. From an epidemiological perspective, prevention is usually considered as the most appropriate approach in counteracting the impacts of a given disease. Currently, anthrax is contracted through direct or indirect contact with infected animals in the endemic areas.
Anthrax toxins’ toxicity is extremely fatal because it leads to sudden death if medical intervention is not availed during the initial stages of the disease infection.
Anthrax is a bacteria-caused disease affects mammals of the bovine and caprine species, and it causes fatal deaths in humans. The most affected domestic animals include goats, sheep, cattle and horses. It is a fatal disease in animals owing to the fact that, it is transmitted from one herbivorous animal to another, the same way as other zoonotic diseases. However, it is worth noting that anthrax disease is not common in humans (CDC 2013). Additionally, anthrax is not usually transmitted from one person to another, as it is the case in domestic and wild animals.
Humans acquire anthrax through three principal means: the skin, gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. Infection through the skin is referred to as cutaneous anthrax. This form of anthrax occurs when the anthrax causing bacteria enters the body through open wounds or abrasion, primarily through making contact with the infected animal of carcass. Gastrointestinal infection occurs when an individual ingests infected beef products (CDC 2013). This is usually referred to as gastrointestinal anthrax. Respiratory or inhalation anthrax occurs when an individual inhales the anthrax bacterium spores primarily through breathing air that is contaminated with the anthrax bacteria. This occurs mostly in areas where there is anthrax outbreak. The same case may occur when humans are exposed to anthrax bacteria as a biological weapon.
Anthrax toxins cause fatal effects on the central nervous system, the brain and heart. It is believed that the symptoms and signs presented in anthrax infection are as a result of the toxic effects on some vital organs and systems. Therefore, this paper will provide an overview of anthrax disease including its pathophysiology, epidemiology, treatment, and control and prevention.
In practice, the treatment of anthrax depends on the form of anthrax involved although therapeutic agents target the disease causing pathogen, Bacillus anthracis. As such, antibiotics are used to destroy the anthrax causing bacteria. Some of the most potent antibiotics include penicillin, ciprofloxacin and doxycycline. These antibiotics are the most reliable treatment options for anthrax treatment, especially in humans because Bacillus anthracis does not exhibit resistance to beta-lactam therapeutic agents. In most cases, treatment approaches combine these antibiotics, in order to improve their potency. For instance, inhalational anthrax treatment involves a combination of ciprofloxacin as the first-line drug with another antibiotic such as penicillin. These drugs are usually administered intravenously, and they are used for 60 days to ensure that all anthrax bacteria spores are destroyed. On the other hand, cutaneous anthrax treatment involves a combination of ciprofloxacin and doxycycline, in which they are administered orally for 7 to 10 days (Vyas 2013).
Despite the fatality associated with anthrax, reliable preventive and control measures reduce the risk of the disease. From an epidemiological perspective, prevention is usually considered as the most appropriate approach in counteracting the impacts of a given disease. Currently, there are several preventive measures for anthrax. One of the most reliable preventive measures is the immunization of high risk persons with a cell-free vaccine. For instance, laboratory workers who are exposed to anthrax are advised to receive the vaccination against anthrax followed by annual boosters, in order to prevent cutaneous anthrax exposures. However, it is worth noting that, anthrax vaccine has not yet been allowed for immunization of the public. The second preventive measure is educating healthcare professionals who handle potentially infected samples on proper handling to prevent skin abrasions. Thirdly, protective clothing and proper ventilation of hazardous environments such as beef processing industries serve as appropriate measures for preventing anthrax. In addition, animal products such as hair, bone meal, wool or hides, as well as, other products of animal origin should be sterilized prior to processing. On the other hand, control of anthrax involves restricting contacts with infected animals. Animal movements, especially livestock should also be restricted to reduce transmission (State Government of Australia 2007).
Currently, anthrax is contracted through direct or indirect contact with infected animals in the endemic areas. Anthrax is common most agricultural regions such as southern and Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South-western Asia, and Central and South America. Some of the areas where anthrax is rare are Canada and the United States.
It is reported that, anthrax occurs sporadically in the endemic countries in which wild herbivores and livestock are affected. In humans, anthrax transmission has been found to occur through the use of contaminated animal products such as hides used in making drums which are imported from anthrax endemic countries (CDC 2013). In Australia, there have been outbreaks of anthrax from year-to-year, and re-emergence risks are usually high in livestock producing regions.
Anthrax disease is caused by the spore-forming Gram-positive bacterium referred to as Bacillus anthracis (Alibek et al. 2002). This bacterium forms resistant spores in unfavourable environment, which germinate when environmental conditions become favourable. Anthrax bacteria spores are commonly found in animal products such as wool, skins and hides. The bacterium spores survive in the soil for many decades. On the other hand, anthrax bacteria may enter into the body systems when an individual ingests beef products obtained from animals that are infected with anthrax bacteria. Anthrax bacteria may also enter into the body through skin cuts or abrasion, especially when an individual gets into direct contact with the anthrax infected beef products such as blood, milk and meat. Anthrax infection occurs more often in domestic animals than in humans. However, it is worth noting that it also affects wild animals such as elephants, hippos and buffalo.
Anthrax spores are used in warfare as a biological weapon, especially in terrorism as it was witnessed in the United States of America, in 2001, when postal mails were found to be laced with finely powdered anthrax spores.
In humans, anthrax disease manifests itself through various symptoms, which occur as a result of the anthrax toxins effects on the brain, heart and the central nervous system. Bacillus anthracis multiplies rapidly in the human body upon exposure. The virulence of Bacillus anthracis is attributed to its antiphagocytic binding proteins that are located on the bacterium’s cell membrane. Upon gaining entry into the body, especially in the blood stream, it produces toxins that are responsible for the disease conditions. The most potent toxins are the lethal toxin and the oedema toxin.
In cutaneous anthrax, Bacillus anthracis enters the body and penetrates into the cutaneous tissue where it combines with the body’s immune cells known as the macrophages. It, therefore, releases its toxins to the surrounding cutaneous tissues: thus causing oedema and brawny erythema. Thereafter, malignant pustules form within 1 to 10 days after infection. However, it is worth noting that these pustules are painless; therefore, it is difficult to suspect any microbial infection unless thorough diagnosis is conducted. The Bacilli anthracis are carried along the lymphatic system to the lymph nodes where they cause lymphadenopathy. This aspect leads to symptoms such as headache, fever and malaise. Myalgia, nausea and vomiting are also believed to be caused by the oedema toxin.
Infection of Bacillus anthracis in the oral region especially in the pharynx and the throat leads to the penetration of the bacterium into pharyngeal tissues where it releases the oedema toxin. This toxin causes necrotic ulcers and oedematous lesions on the posterior pharyngeal wall. The Bacilli anthracis are engulfed by the macrophages to form complexes, which are later transported along the lymphatic system to the cervical lymph nodes. Bacillus anthracis toxicity in the cervical lymph nodes causes enlargement of the lymph nodes and soft-tissue swellings. Oedema toxin is also believed to cause necrotic ulcers in the lymph nodes, especially in the tonsils which serve as the principal primary lymph organs in the neck region. Effects of the oedema toxin are manifested as fever, sore throat and dysphagia. Hoarseness and airway obstruction is also witnessed especially at advanced infection stages.