IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|


Photo By: Kerry Luker

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Ingestion by eating undercooked meat of infected animals causing nausea, fever, chills, stomach pain, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting blood.
  3. 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.


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:

Infection Landscapes

Information last updated: August 17, 2020

Travel Health Journal