What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. A spore is a cell that is dormant (asleep) but may come to life with the right conditions. In the case of anthrax, the spore may form the anthrax toxin when it enters the warm, moist environment inside the skin, stomach or lungs of a person.

Anthrax is not contagious. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another. A person must come in direct contact with the spores in order to develop disease.

Anthrax Symptoms

Although the likelihood of anthrax exposure is minimal, it is important to be familiar with the symptoms of anthrax infection.  

Skin (Cutaneous)

Most anthrax infections occur when the bacteria enter a cut or abrasion to the skin.  First, the exposed skin itches, then a bump, resembling an insect bite, appears.  Within 1-2 days, the bump evolves to a blister, then to a painless ulcer, usually 1-3 cm in diameter, with a characteristic black center.  If not treated, fever, headache, malaise and nearby swollen lymph nodes may develop.  Symptoms usually occur within 1-12 days of exposure.  


Initial symptoms may mimic the flu, including fatigue, fever, muscle aches, malaise, mild discomfort in the chest and possibly a dry cough.  After several days, symptoms may progress to severe difficulty breathing and shock.  There is some evidence that onset of symptoms may be delayed up to 60 days.  Please note that none of the recent cases of inhalational anthrax have been associated with a runny nose or nasal congestion.


Gastrointestinal anthrax may develop if the bacteria are swallowed.  Initial symptoms include severe abdominal pain, followed by fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting of blood and bloody diarrhea.  In some cases, lesions may develop at the base of the tongue and lymph nodes in the neck may swell, resulting in difficulty swallowing.  Symptoms usually occur within 1–7 days after exposure. 

For more information

The following resources may be useful:
Anthrax, Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Anthrax FAQs, New Jersey Department of Health