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Inhaled anthrax can be 'devastating'

Bottle of Anthrax

Victims suffocate after lungs fill with fluid

February 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:02 p.m. EST (2302 GMT)

(CNN) -- Anthrax is a bacteria that normally affects animals, with people usually only exposed through contact with an infected animal.

But if anthrax were to be used as a weapon, distributed in the form of an aerosol, just a tiny amount could kill hundreds of people.

"The disease that we're concerned with occurs from the inhalation of an aerosol containing the spores of the anthrax bacillus," says Dr. Arthur Friedlander, an anthrax expert with the U.S. Army. "That produces a disease known as inhalational anthrax, which is a devastating disease."

The inhaled bacteria can produce toxins or poisons that eventually enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.

Symptoms usually start to occur after about 12 hours. They include:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains.
  • Tightness in the stomach.
  • Severe skin infections.
  • Difficulty breathing.

Eventually, lungs fill with fluid and the victim suffocates.

Antibiotics can be used to treat anthrax exposure -- if administered within 12 hours. But because symptoms often don't occur until after that deadline has passed, the treatment often comes too late.


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