Anthrax; mode of transmission, clinical features, management and prevention


This is an acute and highly contagious lungs and intestinal tract bacterial infection.

This is commonly spread from animals like cows, goats, and sheep. The bacterial is a spore-forming bacterium which can live in the soil and animal products for decades. This infection is potentially fatal.

Causative organism: Bacillus Anthracis

Mode of transmission

  • Through direct contact with tissues of animals dying from the disease or direct contact with contaminated hair, wool and soil. This causes cutaneous anthrax.
  • Through inhalation of spore of the organism causing pulmonary anthrax.
  • Gastro-intestinal anthrax: transmitted through eating contaminated meat from infected mammals especially infected dead animals. This gastro-intestinal anthrax is difficult to recognize.
    Photo by CDC

These categories of people are considered to be of high risk;

  • Veterinary officers.
  • Labouratory Technicians.
  • Employers of textile Companies.
  • Fulani herds men.

Signs and Symptoms

  1. Itching of the affected skin.
  2. Lesion develops leading to black scab (eschar).
  3. Regional lymphadenopathy.
  4. Oedema around the slough.
  5. Pulmonary anthrax: resemble common cold i.e. fever, headaches, cough etc. 
  6. Acute Symptoms of respiratory distress, shock and then death.
  7. Sudden and general malaise.
  8. Septicaemia, followed by death.


  • Penicillin injection or oral tetracycline or erythromycin.
  • Pulmonary anthrax is treated with intravenous penicillin.
  • Corticosteroids e.g. dexamethasone may be given for skin itching or lung inflammation.
  • If treatment is delayed because diagnosis is not made promptly, death is likely.

Prevention and Control

  1. All infected persons must be treated promptly and effectively.
  2. Proper disposal of discharge from lesion or soiled articles.
  3. Prompt isolation and treatment of animals suspected of anthrax.
  4. Consumption of dead animals should be avoided.
  5. Vaccination of all animals annually.
  6. Proper cooking of meat before eating.
  7. All animals should be examined before and after slaughtering and selling to the public.
  8. Proper washing, disinfection of hair wool and hides before processing for sale.
  9. Health education on cause, mode of transmission, signs and Symptoms as well as how to prevent the disease.
  10. Notification of the disease to the health authority.

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