Home Page




Science Superstars




  Homework Help

Zephyrus Training

About Us

Contact Us






Anthrax is a fatal disease which attacks livestock. It is caused by a bacillus (Bacillus anthracis). It can be transmitted to humans often as a result of handling the hides of infected animals, as a result anthrax can be a particular hazard for butchers, farmers and wool sorters. Those who handle wool are vaccinated as they are at particular risk from breathing in anthrax spores and so developing pulmonary anthrax.

It was the first disease for which:

the causative organism was isolated (by C. J. Davaine in 1863)

a pure culture was obtained (by Robert Koch in 1876)

an effective vaccine was developed (by Louis Pasteur in 1881).

Animals often catch the disease from drinking water which has drained from contaminated soil, in which the organism may live for years. It is also caught from eating infected carcasses and foodstuffs; and from the bites of bloodsucking insects.

In humans, the disease appears in both external and internal forms. The external form is contracted by those who handle infected hides and carcasses through cuts or abrasions in the skin. It often disseminates into the bloodstream, with fever and prostration. There is a short incubation period of about one to three days and after that an unpleasant spot appears on the skin. It appears as a blister with red inflamed skin around it. Later this dries to form a black scab. There is a high fever and/or severe pneumonia may develop.

The internal type is caught by inhaling anthrax spores from animal hair and wool. These invade the lungs and sometimes the intestinal tract and cause haemorrhage, but this form is very rare.

It is speculated that an intestinal variety may be caused by consuming contaminated meat or milk. If infected meat is eaten the blisters appear in the mouth and the throat.

Today anthrax is successfully treated with antibiotics and there is an affective vaccine.

However, about 60 000 cattle died in the 17th century in a pandemic referred to as the Black Bane, which is now thought to have been anthrax. It is one of the oldest known diseases and was described by the Roman poet Virgil and it is thought to have been the fifth plague of Egypt referred to in the Bible.

There have been quite recent outbreaks of anthrax in animals, 30 pigs and a herd of 4 700 cattle were destroyed as a result of an outbreak near Wrexham, N Wales.