Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Anthrax - Topic Overview

What is anthrax?

Anthrax is a serious, sometimes deadly disease caused by infection with anthrax bacteria. These bacteria produce spores that can spread the infection.

Anthrax in humans is rare unless the spores are spread on purpose. It became a concern in the United States in 2001, when 22 cases occurred as a result of bioterrorism. Most of those cases affected postal workers and media employees who were exposed to spores when handling mail.

Most cases of anthrax occur in livestock, such as cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Anthrax spores in the soil can infect animals who eat plants growing in the soil. People can be exposed to spores in infected animal products or meat. This is not much of a concern in North America, because livestock are vaccinated against anthrax. But people can get anthrax from handling animal skins or products made out of animal skins from parts of the world where anthrax is more common.

What causes anthrax?

Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis bacteria. There are three types of infection:

  • Cutaneous (skin) anthraxCutaneous (skin) anthrax camera.gif. This can occur when spores enter your body through a break in the skin. Half of the cases in the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks were this type.1
  • Inhalational (lung) anthraxInhalational (lung) anthrax camera.gif. This can occur when you breathe in spores. It is the most serious type of infection. Half of the cases in the 2001 attacks were this type.2
  • Gastrointestinal (digestive) anthrax. This can occur when you eat food contaminated with anthrax spores. This has occurred in developing regions of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, but not in North America.

The illness does not seem to spread from person to person. People who come in contact with someone who has anthrax don't need to be immunized or treated unless they were exposed to the same source of infection.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms and the incubation period-the time from exposure to anthrax until symptoms start-depend on the type of infection you have.

With cutaneous anthrax, symptoms usually appear 5 to 7 days after exposure to spores, though it may take longer.

  • The first symptom may be a small, raised bump that might itch.
  • The bump becomes a painless, fluid-filled blister and later forms a black center of dying tissue.
  • Swollen lymph nodes, headache, and fever also may occur.
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    hot toddy
    15 tips to help you feel better.
    man sneezing into elbow
    Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
    teen girl coughing
    Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
    elder berry
    Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
    Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
    cold weather
    Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
    Boy holding ear
    woman receiving vaccine shot
    woman with fever
    Waking up from sleep
    woman with sore throat