Anthrax spores are formed by anthrax bacteria that occur naturally in soil in most parts of the world. The spores can remain dormant for years until they find their way into a host. Common hosts for anthrax include wild or domestic livestock, such as sheep, cattle, horses and goats.
Although rare in the United States, anthrax is still common throughout the developing world, such as in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa.
Most human cases of anthrax occur as a result of exposure to infected animals or their meat or hides. In the United States, a few people have developed anthrax while making traditional African drums from the skins of infected animals.
One of the few known instances of nonanimal transmission occurred in the United States in 2001 when 22 people developed anthrax after being exposed to spores sent through the mail. Five of those who were infected died.
More recently, 54 heroin users in Europe contracted anthrax through injecting illegal drugs. Eighteen people died from injectable anthrax. Heroin sold in Europe likely comes from areas where naturally occurring anthrax is more common.
June 10, 2014
- Wilson K. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of anthrax. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
- Hicks CW, et al. An overview of anthrax infection including the recently identified form of disease in injection drug users. Intensive Care Medicine. 2012;38:1092.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
- Anthrax. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious_diseases/gram-positive_bacilli/anthrax.html. Accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
- Wilson K. Microbiology, pathogenesis, and epidemiology of anthrax. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
- Grey MR, et al., eds. The Bioterrorism Sourcebook. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2006. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=366&Sectionid=39825485. Accessed Feb. 26, 2014.
- Anthrax. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/anthrax/Pages/default.aspx#. Accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
- Hall JB, et al, eds. Principles of Critical Care. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2005. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=361&Sectionid=39866430. Accessed Feb. 26, 2014.
- Wilson K. Prevention of anthrax. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 26, 2014.
- Anthrax vaccine: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/anthrax.html. Accessed Feb. 25, 2014.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.