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Anthrax - An old disease or possible Government or terrorist weapon ?

Updated on September 2, 2016
Anthrax spores
Anthrax spores
Cross section of an anthrax spore
Cross section of an anthrax spore
Anthrax cycle
Anthrax cycle
Inhalation anthrax
Inhalation anthrax
Turning anthrax spores into weapons grade material
Turning anthrax spores into weapons grade material
Horse-fly can transmit anthrax
Horse-fly can transmit anthrax
Cutaneous anthrax ulcer
Cutaneous anthrax ulcer
Gruinard Island - anthrax experiment
Gruinard Island - anthrax experiment

Anthrax - Fact or Fiction

Anthrax – (Bacillus anthracis) – a disease most commonly acquired from infected animals or animal products. It is also known as Woolsorter's disease and Ragpicker's disease..

Anthrax was first described in the early literature of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Hindus. The word anthrakis means coal in Greek, and the disease is named after the black appearance of its cutaneous form. The fifth plague described in the Old Testament book of Genesis is thought to be the earliest descriptions of anthrax. In the late 1880s, Robert Koch's experiments with anthrax spores led to the original theory of bacteria and disease while John Bell's work in inhalational anthrax led to wool disinfection processes and the term Woolsorter’s disease.

Gastrointestinal anthrax has also been the subject of biological weapons programmes in several major countries and autonomous terrorist groups. Various bodies such as WHO, US Office of Technology Assessment and Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies have all issued unsubstantiated and reckless estimates of civilian casualties resulting from aerosolised anthrax spores. Before we discuss it in detail these are the true facts – anthrax will never be a successful terrorist weapon. It must be converted, by spray drying using huge centrifuges into a powder, suspended in air, which can be inhaled. This is technically very difficult and very expensive, requiring sophisticated equipment and, so far, only the USA and Russia have succeeded in doing it. Iraq used anthrax in a crude liquid form, which is totally ineffective. Wool sorters inhale anthrax spores, in small quantities continually (150-700 per hour) and only if they get a large dose does an infection start. Studies suggest that something in the region of 10000 spores must be inhaled to start an infection.

Perhaps we should look a little more into the disease itself, to see how it can be contracted, symptoms and possible remedies.

Anthrax commonly affects hoofed animals such as sheep, cattle, and goats, but humans who come into regular contact with infected animals can fall ill from anthrax, too. Generally speaking the people who are most at risk of catching anthrax include farm workers, veterinarians, and tannery and wool workers. Pigs are not immune, but they are more resistant, as are dogs and cats. Birds usually have a natural resistants’ to anthrax while Buzzards and Vultures, although naturally resistant to anthrax, may present a danger as they can transmit the spores on their talons and beaks.

There are three main ways by which humans can become infected with anthrax.

Cutaneous anthrax occurs when anthrax spores enter the body via a cut or scrape on the skin this is by far the most common type of anthrax infection. The main risk is contact with animal hides or hair, bone products, and wool, or with infected animals themselves. In addition it can be transmitted by horse flies, bed bugs or any other type of biting fly.

Inhalation anthrax develops when anthrax spores enter the lungs through the respiratory tract. It is most commonly contracted when workers breathe in airborne anthrax spores during processes such as tanning hides and processing raw wool. Breathing in spores’ means a person has been exposed to anthrax, but it does not mean the person will have symptoms as it can lay dormant. The bacteria spores must "germinate" or sprout before the actual disease occurs and the process usually takes 1 to 6 days. Forty-three days is the longest known incubation period, but this is very unusual. Once the spores germinate, they release several toxic substances into the body. These substances are the ones that cause internal bleeding, swelling, and tissue death.

Gastrointestinal anthrax occurs when someone eats anthrax-tainted meat. It is a rare form of infection with only 11 cases having been reported, all in underdeveloped countries.

Most anthrax is cutaneous (95%). The remaining cases of the disease are inhalation (5%) and gastrointestinal (< 1%).

Symptoms of infection. Symptoms of anthrax differ depending on which type of anthrax is involved.

Symptoms of cutaneous anthrax start 1 to 7 days after exposure with an itchy sore developing which is similar to an insect bite. This sore may blister and form a black ulcer which is usually painless, but it is often surrounded by swelling. A scab may then form, drying and falling off within 2 weeks. Complete wound healing can take longer.

Symptoms of inhalation anthrax: begins with fever, malaise, headache, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Fever and shock may occur later and Initial symptoms may resemble a common cold. After several days, the symptoms may deteriorate to severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax usually occur within 1 week and may include: Abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea, diarrhoea, fever, mouth sores, nausea and possibly bloody vomiting. The intestinal disease form of anthrax may have been caused by the consumption of contaminated meat and is characterized by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhoea. Intestinal anthrax results in death in 25 to 60 percent of cases.

Tests to determine anthrax type: The tests to diagnose anthrax depend on the type of disease that is suspected.

A skin culture and maybe a biopsy are done on the skin sores. The sample is looked at under a microscope to confirm the anthrax bacteria.

Tests required may include: Blood culture, chest CT scan or chest x-ray, spinal tap to check for infection around the spinal column, and sputum culture. Fluid or blood sample results are not available immediately as they will need be sent to a special laboratory for more testing, including PCR, immunofluorescence, and immunohistochemistry.

Treatment: The standard treatment by your doctor is with antibiotics. Several different types of antibiotics are effective, including penicillin, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin.

When treating inhalational anthrax, the specialists normally use a combination of antibiotics and often start treatment with ciprofloxacin plus another drug, given intravenously. Treatment is over a long period of about 60 days because it may take all the spores that long to germinate.

Cutaneous anthrax is treated with oral antibiotics over about 7 to 10 days. Doxycycline and ciproflaxin are most often used. The disease itself is not contagious and people who live with someone who has cutaneous anthrax do not need antibiotics unless they have also been exposed in the same way or have contact where body fluids can be exchanged.

Treatment with herbs and natural methods.

Natural treatment can be very successful and one of the simple solutions is to buy a couple of essential oil vaporisers for a few pounds and use Thyme, Oregano, Yarrow, Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, Frankincense and Hyssop essential oils. These oils can also be blended with sweet almond carrier oil and massaged into the chest or back twice each day or at night (to keep the oil from the bedding) rub into the soles of the feet. It is widely accepted by the medical profession that Thyme oil is extremely effective in killing the anthrax bacillus. The highly anti-microbial phenols in thyme essential oil - Carvacrol and Thymol are responsible for this action. It is also equally effective against glanders bacillus, staphylococcus, diphtheria, meningococcus and Kock’s bacillus (TB)

Liquorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): - According to herbalists over the ages, liquorice is one of the two or three most important herbs in the healing world. Liquorice root is found in more medicinal combinations in Chinese Medicine than any other herb including ginseng as the Chinese consider it the key to health. Glycyrrhetinic acid (GLA} is a major constituent of liquorice root and the one that is responsible for its therapeutic benefits. GLA stimulates the immunosuppressive property of cortisone, while exhibiting an immunosuppressive action of its own. Whole liquorice root increases the immune activity when necessary and also suppresses it when not needed. It acts as a tonic or adaptogen in this respect. Liquorice root activates and mimics interferon (proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites or tumour cells). Medically liquorice root has an enhancing effect on the reticuloendothelial system (cells that are part of the body’s defence mechanisms.) the first line of defence against micro-organisms. In animal testing Glycyrrhizin (GL), a constituent of liquorice, and, to a lesser extent GLA, have been found to induce interferon production. Glycyrrhizic acid, at concentrations comfortably tolerated by uninfected cells, inhibits both growth and cytopathic (damage to host cells) effect of vaccinia, herpes simplex, Newcastle disease, and vesicular stomatitis viruses but is ineffective on poliovirus. Again using in-vitro testing, tinctures of liquorice showed reproducible antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium smegmatis and Candida albicans. Persons with a history of hypertension, renal failure, or the current use of cardiac glycosides, should avoid liquorice root.

Pau d'arco or Lapacho (Tabebuia avellandedae, T. impetiginosa). This is a South American herb and is a great immune system stimulant. Testing has found that it holds great promise for the treatment of cancers, such as leukaemia, and of Candida and other troublesome infections. The medicinal part of the tree is the inner lining of the bark, called the phloem. The active ingredient of lapacho is called lapachol. Lapachol is one of a number of plant substances known as napthaquinones (N-factors) and Anthraquinones, or A-factors, which comprise another important class of compounds. It is very rare to find both N- and A-factors in the same herbal species. Scientists have proposed that many of the remarkable properties of lapacho may be traced to the probable synergy between A- and N-factors. Pau d'arco also contains ingredients such as: quercitin, xloidone and other flavonoids. These contribute to its effectiveness in the treatment of tumours and infections. Lapacho has been found useful for the treatment of fevers, infections, colds, flu, syphilis, cancer, lupus, and diabetes. In addition it has a good success rate with Hodgkin's disease, Parkinson's disease, osteomyelitis, respiratory problems, skin ulcerations and boils, dysentery, psoriasis, gastrointestinal problems of all kinds, debilitating conditions such as arthritis and prostatitis, and circulation disturbances. According to Daniel Mowrey, author of Herbal Tonic Therapies, "Lapacho's use in many ways parallels that of echinacea in North America and ginseng in Asia, except that its actions appear to exceed them both in terms of its potential as a cancer treatment." Lapacho has become a standard form of treatment for some kinds of cancer and for all kinds of infections throughout Brazil and has been successfully used in Paraguay to treat leukaemia. It is a proven antiviral substance and ts potential use in treating AIDS is now being investigated. No side effects were detected when the whole herb was consumed at the recommended doses. The FDA gave lapacho a clean bill of health in 1981. Other observed side-effects were an antivitamin K effect, anemia, and significant rises of metabolic and protein toxins in the bloodstream. These, however, diminish with time. Scientists think that lapacho initiates an immediate cleaning up effect on the body's cells. Once the cells are cleaned, the signs of toxicity disappear. Many herbal tonics show this behaviour in cleaning our bodies of excess toxins.

Colloidal Silver - A natural antibiotic, Colloidal Silver is a powerful treatment because it works as a catalyst, disabling the enzyme that many bacteria, fungi and viruses use for their metabolism. Historically has been used in a colloidal form to kill over 650 disease causing organisms and bacteria.

Grapefruit Seed Extract Liquid Concentrate: It is used topically as an antiseptic wound cleaner and to treat infections of the skin. Internally, the concentrate is useful as a supportive treatment for a wide variety of ailments, including Candida infections, sore throats, intestinal upset, etc. It may also be used to purify drinking water when camping or traveling to foreign countries. It may be used as a surface disinfectant in place of commonly used cleaners like bleach or ammonia-based products

First Defense: This is a proprietary formulation and is the most complete and effective natural broad spectrum anti-infective formula available for infants and children. It uses herbs and minerals known for their direct anti-bacterial, anti-viral and immune response stimulating properties. First Defense is completely safe and non-toxic for infants and children of all ages and can be used at the first sign of any acute symptom, e.g. cold, cough, flu, fever, sinusitis, sore throat or ear infection. There is also an adult version available as a nasal spray.

Colostrum: Colostrum is known for its powerful healing ability offering optimal health. Colostrum research proves a wide spectrum of immunoglobulin’s, antibodies, and accessory immune factors. Colostrum immune factors not only boost the underactive immune system but work toward regulating overactive immune system (allergies and auto-immune disease). Available in 480mg capsules.

Colostrum 4 Kids w/Probiotics: A proprietary product for healthy digestion & the immune system for children. Colostrum is nature's first food for the immune system. and uses the finest bovine. Colostrum, that has been naturally harvested and especially prepared with Probiotics to enhance the health and vitality of a child's immune and digestive system.

Vidal Yew Formula: The Native Americans referred to the Pacific NW Yew tree as "Chief of the Forest”. Medical research reports that the Yew has remarkable anti-cancer properties and through the years has been used for its natural potential for addressing a variety of health concerns which include colds, viral, bacterial and fungal infections, flu, rheumatism, sciatica, kidney problems, lung problems and many more.

Bee Propolis: Is a natural antibiotic; used in the treatment of colds, flu, fever, and digestive disorders. A substance collected by honey bees containing phytotonizides is believed to contain immunity factors that stimulates the body and gives it a natural resistance to diseases.

Sodium Chlorite and Chlorine Dioxide under test conditions has shown an ability to clean up Anthrax, and also this mineral supplement is showing promising results as a supplement for ridding the body of pathogens and boosting the immune system.

Incidence in the world of Anthrax

Anthrax is uncommon in Western Europe, but the disease is relatively well known in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 1958, approximately 100,000 cases of anthrax occurred worldwide. Exact current figures do not exist because of reporting difficulties in Africa but anthrax is endemic in Africa and Asia despite vaccination programs. Sporadic outbreaks in these areas have occurred as a result of both agricultural and military disruptions. During the 1978 Rhodesian civil war, failure of veterinary vaccination programs led to a human epidemic, causing 6500 anthrax cases and 100 fatalities. An accident at a military microbiology facility in Sverdlovsk in the former Soviet Union in 1979 resulted in at least 66 deaths. Normally human anthrax is often associated with agricultural or industrial workers who come in contact with infected animal tissue or biting insects.

Prognosis When treated with antibiotics, cutaneous anthrax is likely to get better quite successfully. However, up to 20% of people who do not get treatment may die if anthrax spreads to the blood.

People with second-stage inhalation anthrax have a poor outlook, even with antibiotic therapy. Up to 90% of cases in the second stage are fatal.

Gastrointestinal anthrax infection can spread to the bloodstream, and may result in death.

Anthrax as a weapon: Anthrax may be used as a biological weapon or for bioterrorism. In 2001, anthrax sent through the U.S. Postal Service infected 22 people; 7 survivors had confirmed cutaneous anthrax disease.

An anthrax vaccine is available to military personnel police, security services and some members of the general public. It is given in a series of five doses over 18 months.

A modern concern is use of anthrax as a biologic warfare agent. During the first Gulf War, Iraq reportedly produced 8500 L of anthrax toxin. A total of 150,000 US troops were vaccinated with anthrax toxoid. In the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 22 confirmed or suspected cases of anthrax infection were disseminated via the US postal system; the spores mailed in these letters were ultimately traced to a US army medical research institute. Since there have been no cases of naturally occurring inhalational anthrax in the US since 1976, alarm should be raised for the occurrence of even a single infection. Anthrax vaccination of soldiers has produced reports of severe side effects, such as bleeding and thyroid malfunction, and has been linked to six deaths. Fear of the vaccine is perhaps greater than the fear of the actual disease itself. Approximately 400 members of the U.S. military have been court-martialled or have resigned rather than submit to the vaccination because of the perceived risks. Some doctors share their misgivings.

Gruinard Island - Scotland

The use of anthrax as a biological weapon was demonstrated under “Operation Vegetarian” by British scientists during the Second World War when as an experiment it was released on a tiny Scottish island with a flock of sheep as guinea pigs. The island, Gruinard, just off the mainland, in Gruinard Bay, half way between Ullapool and Gairloch in the Highlands, was so contaminated by the test that it was deemed out-of-bounds for almost 50 years.

The 1942 test was sanctioned amid fears the Germans might attack the UK with biological or chemical weapons. Sheep were secured in wooden frames, in an open field and exposed to a bomb that scattered the spores. The sheep started to die three days later. Biological weapon experts have suggested that 100kg of anthrax sprayed on a major city could kill more than 3million people. The experiment with anthrax on Gruinard Island was the subject of a film and it remained classified until 1997.

Decontamination project. Despite attempts to disinfect Gruinard Island, the spores left by the experiments kept the island in quarantine for 48 years. The final WW II report on the Gruinard Island tests suggested anthrax could be used to render cities uninhabitable "for generations".

In 1986 an English company was paid half a million pounds to decontaminate the 520-acre island by soaking the ground in 280 tonnes of formaldehyde diluted in 2000 tonnes of seawater. Topsoil was also removed in sealed containers. This was known as "Operation Dark Harvest".

To prove that the clean-up was successful a flock of sheep were reintroduced to graze the island on the instructions of an independent watchdog set up by the Ministry of Defence. On 24 April, 1990, the then junior Defence Minister, Michael Neubert, made the half-mile journey from the mainland to declare Gruinard safe by removing its red warning sign. But at that time the Glasgow Herald newspaper reported that a leading archaeologist was unconvinced by official assurances the land was safe. Dr Brian Moffat, the archaeological director of an excavation of a medieval hospital located near Edinburgh, said his team had encountered buried anthrax spores which had survived for hundreds of years. The sheep continue to graze and no traces of anthrax can be found.

However, that was not the end of Britain's interest in anthrax because 2001 it was announced that a team led by a Scottish scientist had produced a vaccine. It was manufactured after two years work at Porton Down, the government's chemical and biological warfare research centre. Sir William Stewart, who led the research group, said the vaccine should act as a safeguard for the future.

From the point of view of the civilian population, suffice to say that army surplus gas masks and NBC suits are a waste of time and money if someone manages to create local pockets of infection, which is the current extent of the problem. If you are working in an area with known anthrax contamination then latex gloves and an inexpensive particulate face mask may be a wise precaution.


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© 2012 Peter Geekie

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    • profile image

      Jane 3 years ago

      Wow there is so much to learn and little time to do it

    • Peter Geekie profile image
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      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Jane

      I think you sound a lot younger than me so you should have plenty of time. Do you study biology ?

      kind regards Peter

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