Anthrax is a zoonosis – an animal disease that can spread to humans – caused by the bacteria
Bacillus anthracis. Spores can lie dormant for long periods of time, usually in soil, until it becomes an infectious agent. It's a common disease in livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, and camels.
Bacillus anthracis bacteria are found worldwide, particularly in tropical and subtropical areas. Travellers are at risk when coming into contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products such as wools and hides. The bacteria germinates during the dry season and can also be present during the wet season.
Usually symptoms appear within 7 days of exposure. Symptoms can appear up to 60 days later if spores are inhaled. Anthrax infection can be contracted through:
- Skin lesions where the bacteria invade the blood stream and cause blisters and a skin ulcer characterized by dying skin (black area) in the center.
- Ingestion by eating undercooked meat of infected animals causing nausea, fever, chills, stomach pain, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting blood.
- Inhalation where a person develops flu like symptoms which may lead to a sore throat, fever, and muscle aches. More severe symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and may progress to shock which can be fatal.
Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect exposure to Anthrax. Treatment includes antibiotics.
- Eat well-cooked and cured meats only.
- Do not buy souvenirs or clothing made from animal hides or wool if the source of origin is unknown.
A vaccine against anthrax is available, but is only given to high risk groups such as military personnel, veterinarians, farmers, livestock workers, and lab professionals handling the bacteria.
Bacillus anthracis bacteria images, life cycle, and distribution maps
Health risk description last reviewed: June 14, 2016
Country information last updated: July 17, 2018
- Friedlander AM, Vietri NJ. Anthrax. In: McGill, A; Ryan, E; Hill, D; Solomon, T, eds. Hunter's Tropical Medicine and Emerging Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. New York: Saunders Elsevier; 2013: 530-534.
- Moser BD, Shadomy SV, Smith TL. Anthrax. In: Jong, E; Stevens, D, eds. Netter’s Infectious Diseases. New York: Saunders Elsevier; 2012: 560-566.
- Rao R, Walker DH. Anthrax. In: Guerrant, R; Walker D; Weller P, eds. Tropical Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. New York: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: 261-264.
- Wertheim, Heiman; Horby, Peter; Woodall, John, eds. Atlas of Human Infectious Diseases. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012. 273 p.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Anthrax
Anthrax cases were recently confirmed in: