Anthrax occurs in all birds and mammals. This deadly disease happens to be highly infectious, and can affect people too. This disease has worldwide distribution, but the exact statistics of anthrax infection is not available because many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. United States have extremely low incidence of anthrax. Nevertheless, the fear that it might be used in biological warfare was very much alive in people’s minds in the wake of the terror attacks in 2001.
Bacillus anthracis is the bacterium that causes anthrax. But unlike other bacteria, the spores formed by this organism resist freezing, dehydration, chemical disinfectants and heating. Because of this, they are extremely difficult to destroy and they remain in contaminated objects and places for a very long time. The spores usually get into cattle and other grazing animals through the grass they eat. On the other hand, dogs get infected when they eat raw meat of infected animals, or when contaminated by blood, other body fluids or tissues that contain these spores. Meat that is not properly cooked also can transmit the spores to the dog. Unlike people, dogs are not known to contract anthrax through the inhalation of spores. A type of anthrax that affects the skin in humans rarely occurs in dogs.
The incubation period of anthrax post exposure is between 3days to 7days. When the spores enter the body of humans or animals, they become active and start multiplying. As they spread all over the body, a highly toxic substance is produced. It is lethal to the cells of the infected host. Rapid cell death breaks up the tissues that harbor the bacteria. This is followed by inflammation and then severe damage to the affected organs, finally resulting in organ failure. The organism enters the blood and lymph vessels and travel to all other parts of the body within a short while.
Sudden onset of severe blood poisoning is the first symptom. Swollen throat is another sign. Death soon follows in acute cases. A chronic form of the disease which is milder in nature displays general symptoms of illness such as vomiting, lack of appetite, constipation or diarrhea. Dogs with this form often respond well to antibiotics and recover.
The diagnosis of anthrax from symptoms alone is not easy as most of these symptoms resemble those of poisoning or other diseases. Lab testing of blood alone can confirm the disease.
Anthrax vaccines are useful in controlling the spread of the disease, especially in large domestic animals. Since an outbreak is costly, infected animals and those who are suspected to be contaminated are quarantined immediately and treated with antibiotics. Immediate reporting as well as accurate diagnosis is very important in preventing serious outbreaks. Reporting of anthrax cases is mandatory in almost all the countries.
The cages, bedding, and other articles that may harbor the spores have to be cleaned disinfected. Many of the common disinfectants are not effective against the spores. So special decontamination processes should be followed. Dead animals are burned or buried promptly to reduce the chances of the bacterial spores spreading.
Exposure to anthrax spores carry the risk of disease, so if it is suspected, your pet dog should be bathed several times to get all the spores out of its fur. Chemicals effective in disinfection are too dangerous to be used on animals. But at the same time the risk to you and other animals and people should be minimized.
People can contract anthrax from infected animals and from animal products that are contaminated with the bacterial spores. Animal to animal, animal to human or human to human casual contacts do not spread the disease even when anthrax pneumonia is present. It is the spores that enter the body through the mouth or through breathing that causes the disease. They can enter through open wounds too.
Anthrax spreads from person to person when wounds come in contact with infected tissue or blood and other body fluids. To protect against the risk of developing anthrax, every precaution must be taken to avoid touching infected tissue or the body fluids of the victim with bare hands. Protective gear such as gloves, body suit and masks should be used while coming into contact with people or animals that are infected. Same precautions should be followed while handling the carcasses of dead animals.