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Anthrax Facts

Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page A14

What is anthrax? Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium. It commonly occurs in wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. It can occur in humans exposed to infected animals. Anthrax spores also can be used as a bioterrorism weapon.

How is anthrax transmitted? Anthrax is not known to spread from one person to another. Anthrax bacteria can enter the body through inhalation or cuts or abrasions in the skin.

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What are symptoms of anthrax infection?

• Fever, usually greater than 100 degrees.

• Flulike symptoms.

• Cough, usually a non-productive cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches.

• Sore throat, followed by difficulty swallowing, enlarged lymph nodes, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal distress, vomiting or diarrhea.

• A sore, especially on the face, arms or hands, that starts as a raised bump and develops into a painless ulcer with a black area in the center.

How is a cold or flu different from anthrax infection?

Colds and flu usually have additional symptoms. In previous reports of anthrax cases, early symptoms usually did not include a runny nose, which is typical of colds and the flu.

Is there a test to show whether someone has been exposed to anthrax?

There is no screening test for anthrax. The only way to prove exposure is through a public health investigation. Nasal swabs and environmental tests determine only the potential extent of exposure. A positive result of a nasal swab only indicates exposure, and a negative result does not rule out exposure.

How can mail become contaminated?

Cross-contamination can occur during processing, sorting and delivery of mail if the envelope comes in contact with a surface contaminated with anthrax spores. Airborne spores also can play a role.

What is the risk of getting anthrax from handling mail?

The risk of contracting anthrax from a letter that's been exposed to cross-contamination is very low. For example, about 85 million pieces of mail were processed in 2001 after envelopes containing anthrax spores passed through New Jersey and District sorting facilities before the facilities were closed. Despite the widespread contamination of the facilities, no new cases of anthrax were linked to cross-contaminated mail.

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

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