Travel Health Service Anthrax
Travel related diseases


What is anthrax?

Anthrax is a rare bacterial disease caused by the bacteria Anthracis Bacillus. It has three forms: inhalational, gastrointestional and cutaneous. Inhalational anthrax is very rare, the prodromal symptoms are similar to those of influenza. Respiratory difficulty will develop 2 to 6 days after the onset of symptoms, followed by shock and death. The symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax are like severe food poisoning. Cutaneous anthrax usually presents with painless ulcer, followed by central black eschar and surrounding lymph node swelling. It is the most common form of anthrax.

As anthrax bacilli are present in rural areas and animal herds, infected patients are usually veterinarians, animal husbandry workers and people working in wilderness. Travellers do not have to worry too much about the infection. On the other hand, anthrax bacteria can be used in biological warfare, but it has to be manufactured as very small particles. The procedures involved are quite complicated, and they require specialized techniques and equipments.

How is it transmitted?

Anthrax bacilli and their spores are usually found in soil, sheep, cow and horse. Human can be infected through contact with infected animals, their products, and inhalation of anthrax spores. Anthrax cannot be transmitted by personal contact.

How to prevent it?

The best way to prevent anthrax is to avoid contact with infected animal and contaminated animal product, manage skin abrasions carefully and observe good personal hygiene.

There is a vaccine for prevention, but completion of the whole course of vaccination takes 18 months, and it has a lot of side effects. Thus, it is not recommended for travellers. If antibiotics are taken after exposure to anthrax, there is a very high chance to prevent anthrax infection successfully.

How to treat it?

Appropriate antibiotics can cure anthrax if the disease is diagnosed early, but can be fatal if left untreated. Hence patients should seek medical care promptly.