Anthrax: Possible Gastrointestinal Exposure

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by anthrax bacteria. The bacteria are spread in the form of spores. A spore is a covering on the bacteria, like the shell of a seed. The spores keep the bacteria alive for long periods of time, waiting for the right condition to grow. Anthrax can cause an infection in the skin, stomach and intestines (GI tract), or lungs. This usually happens by handling infected animal products or animals.

The gastrointestinal (GI) form of anthrax occurs after eating food that has been contaminated with anthrax spores. Or after eating raw or undercooked meat from an animal infected with anthrax. The infection is more common in underdeveloped areas. It is rare in North America and Europe. Not everyone who ingests anthrax will get sick. If infection occurs after eating the contaminated food, symptoms start within 1 to 7 days.


Symptoms of GI anthrax can start like "stomach flu," but can get worse quickly. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Swelling of neck or neck glands

  • Sores on the tongue and throat

  • Sore throat, pain or trouble swallowing

  • Hoarseness

  • Nausea and vomiting, which may be bloody

  • Diarrhea or bloody diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain or swelling

  • Fainting

  • Headache

  • Red face and red eyes

GI anthrax infection can only occur after ingesting anthrax spores. It can't be spread from person to person . There is usually no need to examine and treat people who have been in contact with you. Whether you are treated with antibiotics will depend on the risk of exposure and the time since that exposure.

Home care

  • Don't panic. The illness can be cured if treatment starts soon after anthrax is ingested.

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

  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating and drinking.

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 looked at by a specialist. You will be told 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

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider or seek medical care right away if any of these occur within 3 weeks after exposure:

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

  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting

  • Open sore on your tongue or throat, or painful swallowing

  • Weakness or dizziness

For the latest information, see the CDC website, or contact your state public health department.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell