Anthrax is an infection caused by a bacterium (germ) called Bacillus anthracis. Although it occurs in animals such as pigs, sheep cattle, goats and horses, it rarely occurs in humans. The bacteria can form spores (forms that live in protective shells). The spores can live for long periods of time in the soil.
Anthrax is not contagious (does not spread from one person to another). The disease is usually treated successfully with antibiotics. There are three types of anthrax:
Cutaneous or skin anthrax – This is the most common form of anthrax. It results when an open wound or rash is exposed to contaminated animal material. It is less serious than the other two forms of anthrax, and generally responds well to antibiotic treatment.
Pulmonary or inhaled anthrax – Although this is the rarest form of anthrax, it is the most dangerous. It occurs from inhaling or breathing thousands of anthrax spores, which may look like powder, into the respiratory tubes and lungs.
Intestinal anthrax – This form of anthrax is rare, but can cause severe illness. It occurs after eating contaminated meat.