How do you know if you have anthrax?
Even with the high level of attention that anthrax receives, anthrax is still
rare. There have been only 18 cases of inhalation anthrax in the U.S. from 1900
through 1978. There were only 224 U.S. cases of skin infection between 1944
and 1994. Gastrointestinal anthrax is very rarely reported. The difficulty with
anthrax is that the symptoms are similar to those commonly found with colds
or other less serious infections. The symptoms of anthrax may occur days or
weeks after exposure, but usually appear within seven days of exposure. Symptoms
vary depending on how the infection was contracted.
Skin anthrax usually starts with an itchy bump similar to a mosquito bite.
In a few days it develops into a sac filled with liquid. This sac then develops
into a painless skin ulcer with a black center of dead tissue. Usually, people
with cutaneous anthrax feel only mildly ill. Early antibiotic treatment is almost
always successful in curing this type of anthrax. If cutaneous anthrax is not
treated, the bacteria may get into the bloodstream and cause more serious symptoms.
Cutaneous anthrax is fatal in one out of five people if not treated.
The intestinal form of anthrax produces symptoms that include nausea, loss
of appetite, vomiting, and fever. This is followed by severe abdominal pain,
severe diarrhea, and vomiting blood. If the infection is not treated, 25% to
60% of people can die from this form of anthrax.
Inhalation anthrax symptoms are similar to those found with the flu or other
common upper respiratory infections caused by viruses or bacteria. Symptoms
of anthrax may not occur immediately after being exposed and may occur days
or weeks after initial exposure. At first, the symptoms are similar to a common
cold. More severe symptoms, such as high fever, severe breathing problems, and
shock can appear several days later. People with inhalation anthrax have the
highest risk of dying from the infection. If a cold or flu suddenly gets much
worse, especially with severe breathing problems, seek immediate medical attention.
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