Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease found primarily in cattle and sheep. It is caused by a microscopic bacteria and occurs all over the world. In the USA, there have been only 18 human inhalation patients since 1900 and none since 1978 (until the Florida patient this month). However, about 5–10 cases of human cutaneous anthrax occur in the U.S. every year. Despite the thousands of reports of white powder, illness and suspicious letters and packages, there has been no anthrax in Texas. No Texas patient has been infected, and no anthrax has been found anywhere in Texas in recent years.
There are three types of anthrax: skin, gastrointestinal and inhaled. Skin (cutaneous) anthrax is the most mild form. It almost never causes more than a skin reaction that results in a black sore if treated with antibiotics. Gastrointestinal anthrax is very rare type of anthrax caused by ingestion of an extremely large number of anthrax spores. This can occur by eating uncooked meat infected with anthrax. Inhaled anthrax is the most dangerous type and is caused by breathing in a great number of anthrax spores. The illness develops days to weeks after the exposure and causes symptoms like the flu.
The U.S. Post Office handles 680 million pieces of mail each day, only three pieces of mail have tested positive for anthrax. Anthrax hoaxes have occurred for several years and are still occurring today. Federal officials have investigated 171 anthrax hoaxes from 1998 to 2001. These usually involve a sending a powder or liquid substance in the mail with a note that states it contains anthrax.
The important things to remember are that Anthrax is difficult to catch and also is easily treated. At this time, Texans have little to fear from anthrax.
Common questions about anthrax.
I received some suspicious mail. What should I do?
You should call your local police. You can place the mail in a plastic bag without touching it with your skin and seal it up. Then wash your hands with soap and water. Do not carry the package around or show it to others. Remember that there have been no packages or mail in Texas that have tested positive for anthrax.
I found some white (brown, blue, green) powder or liquid. I want it tested for anthrax.
As above, call your local police. If you suspect anthrax do not touch, taste or smell the powder. Leave the room. Wash all exposed skin with soap and water.
I have a rash, sore, skin lesion, etc. Is it anthrax?
Many things can cause skin lesions, and you can only get skin anthrax through a break in the skin, like a cut. Skin anthrax is easily treated with antibiotics. You should go to your doctor in the next few days, and get his opinion about the skin lesion.
I think I have the symptoms of anthrax, and I want to be tested for anthrax.
Anthrax causes the same symptoms that many viruses and bacteria do. You should go to your doctor so the cause of your illness can be determined. Although there is no screening test for anthrax, your doctor may collect specimens to help determine the cause of your symptoms. Remember, no patients in Texas have been diagnosed with anthrax in recent years.
My friend thinks she has anthrax, and I think I caught it from her.
Anthrax is not passed from person to person. No person-to-person transmission of inhalation anthrax has ever been reported. It is not dangerous to be in a room that had anthrax sprayed into it the previous day.
Spores are only dangerous when: In an open skin wound, eaten and in an aerosol form. In most cases, aerosol spores are no longer floating in the air after 24 hours. They are deactivated when exposed to sunlight or moisture. Surfaces can be washed with soap and water or diluted bleach and made safe.
Do I need to be vaccinated?
There is a vaccine. It is being given to our armed forces and a few people who work with anthrax every day. At this time the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have advised against getting a vaccination for most people.
Should I start taking antibiotics? Should I get some Cipro?
No, at this time you should not be taking or stock piling antibiotics. The CDC has established recommendations for your physician to follow that tells when you should take antibiotics and which one will be given. Every antibiotic has potentially harmful side effects and should only be taken if absolutely necessary.
What should I tell my children?
Anthrax is a sickness caused by a germ. Some bad people are sending the germ to others. So far only famous people have been sent the germ. You are safe in your home and school.
Who can I call for more information?
For more information on anthrax call your local poison center at 800-222-1222. There are nurses and pharmacists at the poison center available to help you.
You can also visit the Texas Department of Health web site at: