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Information About Anthrax and Other Potential Bioterrorist Weapons (November 2001)

Because of the events our nation has recently experienced, many people have raised questions and concerns about anthrax and other potential biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. In response to these concerns, below is some basic information about anthrax and smallpox. The following information briefly touches upon the two topics and it is recommended that you visit the links below to obtain more comprehensive information.

Anthrax is a disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It most commonly occurs in hoofed mammals, but also can infect humans. Anthrax infection can typically occur in three forms: cutaneous (skin), inhalation, and intestinal. Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely to occur and has not been reported.

Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax resemble those of a common cold, but can progress rapidly to respiratory distress and shock. Certain antibiotics can be used to treat inhalation anthrax; however, in order to be most effective, treatment should be initiated early. Cutaneous anthrax initially appears as a raised, itchy bump, but eventually develops into a painless ulcer with a black center. Left untreated, cutaneous anthrax can result in death; however, deaths are rare with appropriate treatment.

Smallpox, unlike anthrax, is viral and can be spread from person to person by infected saliva droplets. On average, it takes about 12 days from the time a person is exposed to the virus for symptoms to develop. Initial symptoms include high fever, fatigue, and head and back aches. After about 2-3 days of the development of the initial symptoms, a characteristic rash will appear. The majority of patients with smallpox recover, but death may occur in up to 30% of cases.

More information about anthrax and other potential bioterrorist weapons can be found in the following resources:

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Last Updated: April 17, 2018

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