Bacteria, Viruses, and Protists

Bacteria Basics

What is anthrax, and how does it affect humans?

Bacillus anthracis, the agent of anthrax, is a large, gram-positive, nonmoving (nonmotile), spore-forming, rod-shaped bacteria that is nasty for humans. The three major, clinical forms of human anthrax are as follows: the bacteria contracted through the skin (the most common, entering through a cut or scrape on the skin, forming lesions, blisters, then a black ulcer); lungs (breathing it into the warm, moist environment of the lungs allows the bacteria to “sprout,” spreading to the lymph system—which usually takes one to six days); or gastrointestinal tract (through the ingestion of anthrax). The symptoms for each form vary; it is usually treated with antibiotics, although the effectiveness of the treatment is often dependent on how the bacteria entered the body. But no matter what, if left untreated, anthrax can spread to the bloodstream, often leading to septicemia (blood poisoning) and death.


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