Anthrax commonly affects hoofed animals such as sheep, cattle, and goats. Humans who come into contact with infected animals can get sick with anthrax as well.
There are three main routes of anthrax infection:
Cutaneous anthrax occurs when anthrax spores touch a cut or scrape on the skin.
- It is the most common type of anthrax infection.
- The main risk is contact with animal hides or hair, bone products, and wool, or with infected animals. People most at risk for cutaneous anthrax include farm workers, veterinarians, and tannery and wool workers.
Inhalation anthrax develops when anthrax spores enter the lungs through the respiratory tract. It is most commonly contracted when workers breathe in airborne anthrax spores during processes such as tanning hides and processing wool.
Breathing in spores means a person has been exposed to anthrax, but it does not mean the person will have symptoms.
- The bacteria spores must germinate or sprout (the same way a seed might sprout before a plant grows) before the actual disease occurs. The process usually takes 1 to 6 days.
- Once the spores germinate, they release several toxic substances. These substances cause internal bleeding, swelling, and tissue death.
Gastrointestinal anthrax occurs when someone eats anthrax-tainted meat.
Anthrax may be used as a biological weapon or for bioterrorism.