The bacterium that causes anthrax is called Bacillus anthracis. It is capable of producing very durable and long-lived spores which can cause disease by coming in contact with skin, by being inhaled and by being consumed. The three forms of disease are:
- Cutaneous anthrax: cutaneous means ‘on the skin’. This is the most common form of anthrax. It is characterised by localised skin lesions with a black central scar of dead tissue and non-pitting oedema (oedema means swelling due to fluid building up in the skin; non-pitting means the swelling cannot be compressed when pushed down). The people most affected by cutaneous anthrax are skin and hide workers. Cutaneous anthrax can be treated with antibiotics.
- Inhalation anthrax: is caused by the inhalation of Anthrax spores. It is also known as woolsorters’ disease because it was an occupational hazard for people who worked with unprocessed wool. It can cause severe pneumonia, cough, fever, difficulty in breathing and finally death.
- Gastrointestinal anthrax: is not uncommon in rural Ethiopia and results from consumption of sick and dying animals, and uncooked meat. Symptoms of intestinal anthrax are fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea and rapid accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.
The control measures for anthrax are to advise people not to eat raw meat from sick and dying animals like cows, oxen, sheep, camels and goats, and to only eat thoroughly cooked meat and meat that has been inspected and approved for consumption. Even handling hides and skins from these dead animals may result in cutaneous anthrax.