Anthrax (aka Charbon) is a potentially lethal bacterial infection caused by Bacillus anthracis that occurs primarily in animals. Cattle, sheep, horses, mules, and some wild animals are highly susceptible. Humans and swine are generally quite resistant to anthrax. Humans become infected when the spores of B. anthracis enter the body by contact with animals infected with B. anthracis or from contact with contaminated animal products, insect bites, ingestion, or inhalation. Aerosolized (“weaponized”) spores of B. anthracis can potentially be used for biological warfare and bioterrorism.
Cutaneous anthrax is the most common form of the disease and is characterized by the development of a localized skin lesion with a central lesion surrounded by marked swelling. Inhalation anthrax (woolsorters’ disease) typically involves hemorrhagic mediastinitis (bleeding into the mid-chest), rapidly progressive systemic (bodywide) infection, and carries a very high mortality rate. Gastrointestinal anthrax is much more rare but is also associated with a high mortality rate.
Anthrax immunization is comprised by a series of six shots over six months and booster shots annually, the anthrax vaccine now in use in the U.S. was first developed in the 1950s and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for general use in 1970. It is given routinely to veterinarians and others working with livestock. In December, 1997 it was announced that all US military would receive the vaccine, as do the military in the UK and Russia due to concern that anthrax might be used in biological warfare.
Anthrax toxin is secreted by the bacterium B. anthracis, the causative agent of the disease anthrax. Anthrax toxin is made up of three proteins. One is protective antigen and two are enzymes that are called edema factor and lethal factor. The protective antigen binds to surface receptors on the host’s cell membranes. After being cleaved by a protease, protective antigen binds to the two toxic enzymes and mediates their transport into the cytosol (the soluble portion of the cytoplasm) where they exert their pathogenic (disease-causing) effects. Lethal factor is the crucial pathogenic enzyme. It is the killer in the toxin.
Typically this lesion has a hard black center surrounded by bright red inflammation. This accounts for its name, “anthrax,” the Greek word for “coal.” “Charbon” in French means “coal,” thus the other name for this disease.