Anthrax: Possible Inhalation Exposure, No Symptoms

You have been exposed to a powder that may be from anthrax. Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by anthrax bacteria. The bacteria make spores that live naturally in the soil. The spores stay inactive for years. They become active when they find a host. This is often wild animals or domestic livestock. You can pick up the bacteria after handling infected animals or animal products. If you breathe in the spores, the bacteria can enter your lungs (inhalation anthrax). Anthrax can also cause an infection in the skin, stomach, and intestines (GI tract).

Inhalation anthrax is the most serious form of anthrax exposure. But this form can't be spread from person to person. And not everyone who has been exposed to the spores will get sick. If an infection occurs, symptoms usually begin within 1 to 7 days. Symptoms may appear as late as 2 months after exposure.

Symptoms

Symptoms may feel like a cold or the flu at first. After 1 to 3 days, though, the infection can progress rapidly and become severe and life threatening. Symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Chest discomfort

  • Shortness of breath

  • Confusion or dizziness

  • Cough

  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains

  • Headache

  • Sweats

  • Extreme exhaustion

  • Soreness over entire body

You can't spread the inhalation form of anthrax to other people. There is often no need to examine and treat people who have been in contact with you. The decision to treat you with antibiotics will depend on the risk of the exposure and the time since that exposure.

Home care

  • Don't panic. The illness can be cured if correct treatment begins early after a confirmed exposure.

  • If antibiotics were prescribed, take them exactly as directed.

Treatment for confirmed anthrax

If it's confirmed that you have been exposed to anthrax, treatment will include antibiotics and possibly antitoxin. Antibiotics sometimes are given by IV. Antitoxin medicines target toxins that are made by the anthrax spore.

You may need to stay in the hospital, and you may need to be on a breathing machine (ventilator). Your healthcare provider may drain fluid from your lungs and monitor you for severe infections.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

If a lab test on a sample of cells (culture) was done, you will be notified if the treatment needs to be changed. You can call as directed for the results.

If X-rays or a CT scan were done, they will be reviewed by a specialist. You will be notified of the results, especially if they affect treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing, wheezing

  • Trouble speaking

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Low blood pressure

  • Vomiting blood, or large amounts of blood in stool

  • Seizure

  • Chest pain

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur within 2 months after exposure:

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Cold-like illness with a dry cough, sore throat, or muscle aches

  • Weakness or dizziness

For the latest information, see the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/anthrax, or contact your state public health department.

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