An outbreak of anthrax has killed two and infected another 10 in Dabuguda village in Renga panchayat under Kashipur block in Odisha’s Rayagada district, according to local media. The survivors are reported as in critical condition.

Bacillus anthracis bacteria Image/CDC
Bacillus anthracis bacteria

The source of the anthrax is under investigation.

In addition, the Times of India reports the death of three elephants in Deogarh forest in Odisha. The deaths of the pachyderms, including one calf, is suspected to be due to anthrax.

Anthrax is a bacterial pathogen in livestock and wild animals. Some of the more common herbivores are cattle, sheep,goats, horses, camels and deer. Anthrax is a very serious disease of livestock because it can potentially cause the rapid loss of a large number of animals in a very short time. Affected animals are often found dead with no illness detected.

It infects humans primarily through occupational or incidental exposure with infected animals of their skins.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. This spore forming bacteria can survive in the environment for years because of its ability to resist heat, cold, drying, etc.  This is usually the infectious stage of anthrax.

When conditions become favorable, the spores germinate into colonies of bacteria. An examplewould be a grazing cow ingests spores that in the cow, germinate, grow spread and eventually kill the animal.

The bacteria will form spores in the carcass and then return to the soil to infect other animals. The vegetative form is rarely implicated in transmission.  Strict enforcement of quarantines and proper burning and burying of carcasses from livestock suspected to have died from anthrax is important to prevent further soil contamination with the bacterial spores.

There are no reports of person-to-person transmission of anthrax. People get anthrax by handling contaminated animal or animal products, consuming undercooked meat of infected animals and more recently, intentional release of spores.

There are three types of human anthrax with differing degrees of seriousness:cutaneous,gastrointestinal and inhalation.