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03 November 2003

Anthrax – an overview

Serkan Oncu, Selcen Oncu, Serhan Sakarya

Med Sci Monit 2003; 9(11): RA276-283 :: ID: 13400


Anthrax, a disease of mammals (including humans), is caused by a spore-forming Gram-positive bacilli called Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax is one of the oldest threats to humanity, and remains endemic in animals in many parts of the world. The incidence of anthrax has decreased in developed countries, but it remains a considerable health problem in developing countries. The disease is transmitted to humans by contact with sick animals or their products, such as wool, skin, meat etc. Capsular polypeptide and anthrax toxin are the principal virulence factors of B. anthracis. Anthrax toxin consists of three proteins called protective antigen, edema factor, and lethal factor, each of which is nontoxic but acts synergistically. Human anthrax has three major clinical forms: cutaneous, inhalational, and gastrointestinal. The diagnosis is easily established in cutaneous cases, characterized by black eschar. Severe intoxication and collapse during the course of bronchopneumonia or hemorrhagic enteritis should prompt suspicion of anthrax. Treatment with antibiotics is mandatory. If untreated, anthrax in all forms can lead to septicemia and death. Recently, considerable attention has been focused on the potential for B. anthracis to be used in acts of biological terrorism. The ease of laboratory production and its dissemination via aerosol led to its adoption by terrorists, as shown by recent events in the USA. A good knowledge of anthrax, its epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical forms and potential as a biological weapon is essential for timely prevention and treatment. This review summarizes the current knowledge on anthrax.

Keywords: Anthrax - therapy, Bacillus anthracis - metabolism

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Medical Science Monitor eISSN: 1643-3750
Medical Science Monitor eISSN: 1643-3750