Anthrax is a disease caused by a bacterium known as Bacillus anthracis, which is able to form spores. Spores are essentially cells that lay dormant, but can come to life under certain conditions. There are three different types of anthrax infections: cutaneous (skin), inhalation (lungs), and gastrointestinal (digestive). Luckily, anthrax is not able to spread from human to human, making it difficult for epidemics to spread in a social atmosphere.
Anthrax is often used for biological warfare since it is easy to manufacture. In 2001, spores were sent through the postal system in the United States, resulting in twenty-two cases of infection. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies Anthrax as a Category A agent, meaning that it poses a great threat to public health and can spread across a large area.
Cutaneous anthrax can easily be treated with antibiotics, although 80% of cases survive without any type of treatment. Gastrointestinal anthrax, even when treated, results in a 25-50% fatality rate. Inhalation anthrax is the most serious and has a fatality rate of about 50%. Vaccines have been made to prevent anthrax infection, although they have not yet been made available to the public.
Symptoms first appear within a week of contact with the anthrax spores. The first symptom of a cutaneous anthrax infection is a sore that blisters and becomes a painless blackened skin ulcer. The first symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax are nausea, a loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, fever, and sever cramping of the stomach. The symptoms of inhalation anthrax are similar to that of a cold or flu, progressing to chest pains, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and fatigue.