Medicine and Disease


Is anthrax a new disease?

No, the disease dates back thousands of years, at least to biblical times. But its potential use as a bio-terrorism weapon is relatively recent.

Anthrax is caused by the bacillus anthracis bacterium, spores that can survive in soil for years. It is mainly a disease of grass-eating livestock, but humans who work with herd animals may become infected through exposure. In humans, anthrax occurs as a cutaneous (skin) form, as a pulmonary (inhaled) form, or as an intestinal infection after the consumption of contaminated meat. The fifth and sixth plagues on Egypt, as described in Exodus chapters 9 (“The Pestilence”) and 10 (“The Boils”), are consistent with anthrax in livestock and humans. In the late 1800s scientists made several important discoveries regarding anthrax: The anthrax germ, bacillus anthracis, was the first germ linked to a particular disease. In 1881 French scientist Louis Pasteur developed an inoculation to protect animals from the disease. Anthrax emerged as a potential weapon of bio-terrorism during the twentieth century. Several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union experimented with the bacterium. Beginning in the 1990s, U.S. troops headed for combat in the Persian Gulf were vaccinated for anthrax.


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