Gastrointestinal Anthrax

As the name suggests, gastrointestinal anthrax, would be anthrax affecting the gastrointestinal tract. It is imperative that we understand what anthrax is, to begin with. It is an acute disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus Anthracis. It is an extremely contagious bacterial infection grave enough to be used in any form of warfare as a biological weapon. It is a bacterial infection with extremely high mortality rates.

The gastrointestinal tract is mostly exposed to this bacteria from the possibilities of digestion of meat contaminated with the same. Once it finds a way to enter the digestive tract of the host, it is brought back into an active state from dormancy. It survives in the gut of the host and produces a lethal poison in the process.

The good news, however, is that such infections of the intestine can be well treated if brought in early. It can result in fatality rates of 25% to 60%. The incidence of anthrax affecting the digestive tract is very rare.

Description of the bacteria Bacillus Anthracis

It is a gram positive bacteria (bacteria that lack the outer membrane) and is rod shaped. The bacteria can remain dormant in the form of an endospore (tough and non reproductive stage in the lifecycle of a bacteria) in the soil and can survive for a few decades in the same stage easily. Once these spores are inhaled, ingested or come in contact with an open sore they enter the body of the host and have the potential of multiplying and killing the host within a few weeks. The endospores first enter the tissue and then spread to the lymph nodes and further by circulating in the lymphatic system. The bacteria produces toxins which are by all means lethal. Death from this bacterial infection is sudden with blood, which has become dark, coming out of open wounds. The bacteria in the blood that oozed out can form spores and spread further infection by coming in contact with humans and animals.

Though it is contagious, it cannot spread from one individual to another. However, the spores could adhere to ones clothing or body.

Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Anthrax Infection

  • Blood Vomit.
  • Severe diarrhea.
  • Swelling and inflammation of the intestinal tract.
  • Loss of Appetite.
  • Formation of lesions and sores in mouth and throat making it difficult to eat.
  • It enters the large intestine or the bowel system and is absorbed in the blood stream and makes more toxins in the process.

Treatment of Gastrointestinal Anthrax Infection

The treatment options of this infection comprise of antibiotics only. Antibiotics are an effective mode of eliminating these bacteria. The chances of success depend on how early they are administered. Intravenous and oral antibiotics like ciprofloxacin, penicillin, doxycycline, erythromycin or vancomycin. Rest what can be done is prevention. In the case of this infection, the statement “Prevention is better than cure” is absolutely applicable.


  • As the bacteria can stick to clothing and skin, effective decontamination includes discarding cloths and burning them. That’s a good way of eliminating the spores for good.
  • The individual needs a wash down where the body gets scrubbed with a strong antimicrobial soap and water.
  • The waste water containing the spores should be further treated with bleach and antimicrobial agents.
  • The articles and household items which have been exposed to the bacteria should be boiled for 30 minutes if possible.
  • Else they should be treated with strong chlorine bleach and formaldehyde.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has approved a five dose series of the anthrax vaccine made from a particularly non virulent strain of the bacteria. It is produced under the name of Bio Thrax and is commonly known as the Anthrax Vaccine Absorbed (AVA).


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