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Infectious disease of warm-blooded animals, caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that, in spore form, can retain its virulence in contaminated soil or other material for many years. A disease chiefly of herbivores, the infection may be acquired by persons handling the wool, hair, hides, bones, or carcasses of affected animals. Infection may lead to death from respiratory or cardiac complications (within 1–2 days if acute), or the animal may recover. In humans, anthrax occurs as a cutaneous, pulmonary, or intestinal infection. The most common type, which occurs as an infection of the skin, may lead to fatal septicemia (blood poisoning). The pulmonary form of the disease is usually fatal. Sanitary working environments for susceptible workers are critical to preventing anthrax; early diagnosis and treatment are also of great importance. In recent decades, various countries have attempted to develop anthrax as a weapon of biological warfare; many factors, including its extreme potency (vastly greater than any chemical-warfare agent), make it the preferred biological-warfare agent. Concerns about anthrax mounted in 2001 after it was found in letters mailed to members of the U.S. government and news agencies.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on anthrax, visit Britannica.com.