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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Q&A: Anthrax
A man in Scotland has died after being infected with anthrax. It is a rare for humans to be infected. This is believed to be the first case in Scotland for 20 years.

Graphic: Effects of anthrax on the body


What causes anthrax?

Anthrax is caused by the organism Bacillus anthracis.

In some parts of the world, this can be found in cattle or other hoofed mammals.

It is infrequent in western Europe and the US, and is more likely to be found in animals in south and central America, south and east Europe, Asia and Africa.

Those at highest risk in the UK are those who directly handle dead animals, such as abattoir workers and those who work with animal skins who could come into contact with spores of the bacteria.

An infected patient cannot pass on the disease to other people.

What are the symptoms?

What makes anthrax dangerous is that the symptoms are often difficult to distinguish from other, less serious infections.

There are three types of anthrax, depending on where the infectious spore has arrived on the patient.

The first, cutaneous anthrax - where infection is through a cut in the skin - is the least serious of the three, and produces a skin lesion, which is rarely painful.

However, if left untreated, the infection can spread and cause blood poisoning, which is fatal in one in 20 cases.

The second type is intestinal anthrax, caused by the consumption of contaminated meat.

This produces severe food-poisoning type symptoms, leading to fever and blood poisoning. It is frequently fatal.

The third is respiratory anthrax, which happens when spores are breathed in by the patient and lodge in the lung.

Symptoms of this disease start out as similar to simple flu, but respiratory symptoms rapidly worsen and the patient usually goes into some kind of shock between two and six days later.

Again, this is frequently fatal.

Symptoms of anthrax normally develop within two days of exposure.

Can anthrax be treated?

Giving antibiotics to anthrax patients can cure the disease, particularly the cutaneous variety.

However, unless they are given swiftly after intestinal or respiratory infection, the chances of cure are greatly reduced.

There is a vaccine against anthrax, but this is not recommended except for those at high risk, such as meat industry workers and laboratory scientists handling the disease.

How did this man contract anthrax?

Scientists are still investigating the case. But it appears his job involved working with untreated animal hides.

Health Protection Scotland are contacting relatives other people who had access to the man's home to check they are not infected.

Because anthrax is difficult to pass from person to person, experts do not think members of the public who came into contact with the man are at risk.

The last laboratory confirmed case of anthrax in Scotland was seen in 1987 when a young girl who contracted the disease. She later recovered.

There have been 17 reported cases of anthrax in England and Wales since 1990. The last reported death was in 1974.




SEE ALSO
Man dies from 'rare anthrax bug'
16 Aug 06 |  South of Scotland
Anthrax: How do you stop it?
10 Oct 01 |  Health
Anthrax as a biological weapon
10 Oct 01 |  Health

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