|Anthrax is a disease caused by the organism bacillus anthracis. It derives its name from anthrakis, the Greek word for coal, because the cutaneous version of the disease can cause black skin lesions.
It is rarely seen in people and mostly affects hoofed animals, which become infected after ingesting the dormant forms of the bacteria - the spores - in soil. The spores can remain dormant in the soil for many years.
It is infrequent in western Europe and the US and is more often found in south and central America, south and east Europe, Asia and Africa.
Traditionally people most at risk are those who work with animals or in industries processing animal products such as meat and wool.
Anthrax is not contagious. The only way to be infected is by being exposed to large numbers of spores.