ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Anthrax: The Story Behind The Killer "White Powder"

Updated on October 12, 2009

Everyone has heard of anthrax, that "white powder" which, once weaponized can be sent by mail and kill virtually on contact, but did you know anthrax can survive for over 1000 years? Did you know anthrax can survive a bomb blast? Do you know the cause of one recent outbreak of anthrax?

Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis and originating in livestock. It is mainly transmitted to humans through cuts in the skin of people who work with infected livestock. This form of anthrax is known as cutaneous anthrax. It is also transmitted through contact with the hide, wool or hair of infected animals. In rare cases it can also be contracted through inhalation, known as pneumonic anthrax and even by eating meat that has not been cooked well enough.

Once anthrax is contracted, the infected person will develop a rash which will then form black scabs within a few days. If it is not treated the bacteria may enter the bloodstream via the lymphatic system. It will then produce a toxin that can be toxic. If anthrax is not treated, anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of cases are fatal.

The treatments for anthrax is antibiotics. If these are administered quickly the anthrax can be completely destroyed within any adverse effects on the infected.

Anthrax can be controlled by vaccination. People likely to be in contact with a source of anthrax, such as animal carcasses, are usually vaccinated. Because of this, very few cases of anthrax are seen in general.

About a decade ago an unusual outbreak of anthrax occurred. Usually these outbreaks find sources such as people who work with animals or even animal hunters. But in this case no such source was found. The people involved had no direct connection and panic of an anthrax epidemic grew. Further investigation of the people involved found that they all used the same type of shaving brushes. It was found that these imported brushes were made of animal hair and were contaminated with anthrax bacteria. The people involved had used their shaving brushes, inadvertently putting the bacteria onto their faces. They had then shaved and the small surface cuts had allowed the bacteria to enter them.

Anthrax exists as a bacterial endospore. In this form it is thought to be able to survive for at least a 100 years. There is evidence that it can survive far longer than a mere century and even longer than a millennium.

An archeological dig on the site of an ancient village showed signs that it had been abandoned and then burnt to the ground after an epidemic of anthrax. Microbiologists found ceramic containers that had apparently been buried by the villagers before the village was burnt. In these containers they found viable anthrax spores. The village had been destroyed around the year 700. These spores had survived underground for over 1300 years.

In World War II British authorities became concerned that the Germans were planning to use bacteria as a new type of deadly weapon. In response to their fears they began to conduct tests of their own. The question they were trying to answer was: if we drop a bomb containing anthrax spores, will they survive? To try to answer the question they dropped 'anthrax bombs' onto Gruinard Island, an uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland. The answer to the question was yes, anthrax spores will survive being dropped from a bomb. And so the island was completely contaminated with these anthrax spores. British authorities claimed that the contaminated island would pose no health risk, provided it was not disturbed. However, in the Eighties an environmental group removed anthrax contaminated dirt from the island. They placed packages of it near the laboratories that had earlier developed the weapons. They threatened to continue distributing their packages of anthrax dirt throughout Britain until the island was decontaminated.

The island was then decontaminated by the British government, using formaldehyde and sea water. The island is now classed as safe and is believed to be free of anthrax spores.

Anthrax is potentially useful in biological warfare because it forms an endospore. An endospore is an inactive form of the bacteria that is resistant to heat, radiation, chemicals and almost everything else that will kill bacteria. Anthrax can be dropped in as part of a bomb and will survive the bomb blast. It could probably even survive if dropped in as a nuclear weapon. Everything else in the area would be killed, but the anthrax would survive and lie dormant. When conditions were good and life returned to the area anthrax would revive itself and infect that life returning. Very few bacteria form endospores. And very few of these are harmful, most are nonpathogenic bacteria that live in the soil. So the short answer to why anthrax is so commonly mentioned as a bacteria involved in biological warfare is because "it can survive the delivery process."

Anthrax is just one portion of the overall madness of biological weapons, but it may be the most well-known pathogen.

Disclaimer: The information on this Hub page does not constitute medical, legal, commercial, product, and/or service advice or endorsement of any vendor, supplier and/or brand, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the author. Listing of an entity or service on this Hub page is not a warranty of the quality or efficacy of the products or services furnished by any entity. The author is not directly compensated by any entity other than the advertising placement services shown on this page.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Hal Licino profile image
      Author

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      It's the remnants of the Cold War lunacy when some of our planet's best minds were employed in working out ways to KILL US ALL. And they say that humanity is sane... :(

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      All such scary stuff

    • Hal Licino profile image
      Author

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      My pleasure... now stay away from any powdery mail! :)

    • Big Brother profile image

      Alex Valis 8 years ago from Earth

      Great Hub, thanks. Alexander

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)