Anthrax is a bacterial disease than can infect warm-blooded animals including humans.

Disease Fact Sheet

Disease Facts

Anthrax is primarily an occupational disease. It is occasionally in individuals who are exposed to dead animals and animal products such as wool, hair, and hides.

The spores of the anthrax bacteria can live in the soil for many years. Man may become infected with anthrax by inhaling contaminated soil particles, by contact with infected animal tissue, or by handling wool or hair from diseased animals. Infection of the intestinal tract can occur by eating under cooked meat from diseased animals. Anthrax is not spread person-to-person.

The symptoms vary depending upon the site of the disease. In skin, a boil-like lesion appears which eventually forms a black center. A swelling of the lymph gland under the arm may occur. In the lungs, symptoms may resemble the common cold and may progress to severe breathing problems and even death. The symptoms of intestinal anthrax include vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The incubation period is usually within 7 days, but may be prolonged up to 60 days.

There are no reports of spread from human to human.

A second attack with this disease is unlikely.

Although effectiveness may be limited after symptoms are present, high dose antibiotic treatment with penicillin, ciprofloxacin or doxycycline should be undertaken. All forms of the disease must be treated promptly, and inhalation anthrax is nearly always fatal if not treated before symptoms begin. Individuals with fever or evidence of disease in an area where anthrax cases are occurring should be treated for anthrax until the disease is excluded.

The disease could be fatal in untreated cases.

Anthrax vaccine is available for people in high-risk occupations, such as military personnel, and individuals who work with imported animal hides, furs, wool, bonemeal, hair and bristles. To prevent anthrax, carefully handle dead animals suspected of having anthrax; provide good ventilation when processing hides, fur, hair or wool; and vaccinate animals.

Yes, anthrax spores can be used as biological weapon. Please see the South Dakota Department of Health bioterrorism fact sheet.


This material is provided by the South Dakota Department of Health for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical care. We are not able to answer personal medical questions. Please see your health care provider concerning appropriate care, treatment, or other medical advice.

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