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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




Anthrax is a rare infection that can be deadly. It leads to swelling, bleeding, and tissue death.

Anthrax Can Enter the Body Through the Lungs.

Nucleus factsheet imagehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=76337633si55551488.jpgsi55551488.jpgNULLjpgsi55551488.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si55551488.jpgNULL16NULL2008-12-102543907633_12047Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Certain bacteria and its spores cause anthrax. They are found in soil and animals. The spores can get into the body:

  • Through breaks in the skin
  • By breathing them in
  • By eating raw or undercooked meat that has spores

The spores multiply and release toxins when they are in the body.

Risk Factors

The risk of anthrax is higher in people who:

  • Live in or travel to places where it is common, such as:
    • Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Asia
    • The Caribbean
    • Southern and Eastern Europe
    • South and Central America
  • Work with animals and animal hides
  • Work with the bacteria in labs
  • Are exposed to criminal or terrorist acts


Symptoms start within a few days after infection.

Skin symptoms may be:

  • A raised, round, itchy bump that looks like an insect bite
  • Skin sores with a black center and a clear or pinkish fluid discharge
  • Swelling around the wound
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes

Symptoms from breathing the spores may be:

  • Cough
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Soreness and swelling in the throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache and muscle aches

Other symptoms begin later such as:

  • Severe breathing problems
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Confusion

Symptoms from eating raw or undercooked meat that has spores may be:

  • Fever
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Whitish ulcers in the throat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Bloody diarrhea


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. The doctor may give tests to rule out other causes.

Tests to diagnose anthrax may be:

  • Blood tests
  • Tests of fluids, stool, wounds, or tissues
  • Imaging tests, such as chest x-rays


Treatment will start right away. It will involve:

  • Antibiotics—to treat the infection
  • Antibodies—to target bacteria (from breathing in the spores)
  • Cleaning and bandaging skin sores
  • Supportive care—to maintain heart function, blood pressure, and oxygen


The risk of anthrax may be lowered by:

  • Avoiding contact with infected animals and their products
  • Not touching anthrax wounds
  • Handling suspicious mail carefully

A vaccine may be given to some people at high risk for anthrax.





  • Anthrax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/anthrax.
  • Anthrax. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/anthrax.
  • Anthrax. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/gram-positive-bacilli/anthrax.
  • Bower WA, Schiffer J, et al. Use of anthrax vaccine in the United States: recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices, 2019. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2019;68(4):1-14.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.