Anthrax: Clarifying the Cloudy

Anthrax naturally occurs in grazing animals (cattle, sheep, and goats), as these species are the most susceptible to the bacteria, but virtually all mammals—including horses and humans—can contract this disease.
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For most Americans, anthrax was a little-known entity until four years ago, when the disease gained worldwide attention with the bioterrorism infection of 22 U.S. postal workers. Some people thought at the time that anthrax was caused by a newly created, deadly bacterium, something out of a modern biologic horror story. Anthrax (caused by Bacillus anthracis), however, has been around for hundreds of years, and it probably has been responsible for killing thousands of animals and humans as far back as biblical times. It appears naturally today in livestock in certain regions of the United States.

The disease caused by anthrax was officially recognized in the late 1800s by Dr. Robert Koch, and anthrax is famous (in medical circles) for being the first disease to which a bacterial cause could be firmly linked. Anthrax was also the first bacterial disease for which a vaccine was made available.

Anthrax naturally occurs in grazing animals (cattle, sheep, and goats), as these species are the most susceptible to the bacteria, but virtually all mammals—including horses and humans—can contract this disease.

What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis or its spores. Although the disease has been sporadically occurring naturally for possibly thousands of years, it has gained renewed recognition in today’s society as a potential bio-terrorism weapon. Anthrax is also known as malignant carbuncle, charbon, or woolsorter’s disease, as workers who handled anthrax-contaminated raw wool were sometimes exposed and infected

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Written by:

Christina S. Cable, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, owns Early Winter Equine in Lansing, New York. The practice focuses on primary care of mares and foals and performance horse problems.

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