Q&A: Gastrointestinal (GI) Anthrax
What Is Anthrax?
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic mammalian species (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores), but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals, or to tissue from infected animals, or when anthrax spores are used as a bioterrorist weapon.
What is gastrointestinal (GI) anthrax?
Gastrointestinal anthrax, or GI anthrax, is the least common form of the three clinical types of anthrax in the United States (cutaneous, inhalation and gastrointestinal). GI anthrax has rarely been described as occurring in the US; however, there have been no confirmed clinical cases reported to public health authorities.
For more information on the 3 types of anthrax, please see “Q&A about Anthrax” located at: http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/faq/
How serious is GI anthrax?
GI anthrax can rapidly result in severe, systemic disease that is fatal in 25% to 60% of cases.
How do you get GI anthrax?
GI anthrax usually occurs after eating undercooked or raw meat from infected animals. For this reason, GI anthrax is more common in countries where animals are not routinely vaccinated against anthrax. In the US, annual vaccination of livestock is recommended in parts of the country where animals have had anthrax in the past. Disease control programs are conducted by veterinary and public health authorities to control outbreaks in livestock and wild animals. These practices, and the inspection of food animals to ensure they are healthy at the time of slaughter, minimize the risk of contaminated meat causing anthrax in the U.S.
Is GI anthrax contagious?
There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of GI anthrax. Person-to-person transmission of anthrax is extremely unlikely and has only been reported with cutaneous anthrax, where discharges from skin lesions are potentially infectious.
What are the symptoms of GI anthrax?
The time from infection to onset of symptoms for GI anthrax generally ranges from one to seven days. Symptoms may include:
- Flu-like symptoms including fever and tiredness
- Sore throat, neck swelling, difficulty swallowing
- Nausea, loss of appetite, mild to severe vomiting (may be bloody), mild to severe diarrhea (may be bloody), and abdominal pain.
Treatment and Prevention:
Is there a treatment for GI anthrax?
Antibiotics are used to treat anthrax. Additional treatment with immune therapy may be considered.
Can GI anthrax be prevented?
GI anthrax can be prevented by avoiding the consumption of undercooked or raw meat products from infected animals (please see question, “How do you get GI anthrax?”). It is also wise to avoiding handling food after touching potentially contaminated animal products such as skins, hides or drums, or wool imported from areas where anthrax is common. After a potential GI exposure to the organism that causes anthrax, prevention consists of antibiotics.
Can I get screened or tested to find out whether I have been exposed to anthrax?
There is no screening test for exposure to the organism that causes anthrax. The only way exposure can be determined is through a public health investigation.
For more information, please see http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/faq/
- Page last reviewed: November 19, 2012
- Page last updated: November 19, 2012
Get email updates
To receive email updates about this page, enter your email address:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC-INFO