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Anthrax - As a bioweapon

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Dr Chetna Bogar's picture
Joined: 26 Sep 2011

Bioterrorism is an act of terrorism using biologic agents as weapons of terror. These weapons of terror known as bioweapons could be micro-organisms, toxic biological products or organic biocides to cause death or injury to humans, animals or plants.
Man has never missed a single option on the planet which he could use to destroy one another, whether be it a bioweapon or a nuclear weapon. The use of bioweapons dates back to 1500 B.C the Hittites of Asia minor recognized the power of contagions and sent plague victims into enemy lands. Also diseased corpses were used to poison enemy wells. Anthrax is one of the scariest bioweapons which could be used in the act of bioterrorism. So we the dental fraternity as health professionals should be aware of the symptoms of this deadly disease in case of a bioterrorist attack. Also, the main intention of this article is to stress on the fact that gastro-intestinal anthrax is equally threatening as a bioweapon because it is usually observed that main stress is on inhalation anthrax whereas gastro-intestinal anthrax is largely ignored because of lack of reported cases.
The anthrax bacilli live in the soil. The grazing animals may come in contact with spores while rooting for food. People may however become infected with anthrax by touching the spores, inhaling them or ingesting them. Thus the attackers may poison commercial crops, the watersupply, the soil, the air or any combination of these. The objective of the attack could be to weaken, terrify or punish the enemy to a degree which will force them to agree to the demands of attackers. The anthrax bacilli may survive as long as 40 years or more. Gruinard Island, off the coast of Scotland, remained infected with anthrax spores for 40years after biological warfare tests were carried out there in the 1940s. Only recently it has been declared safe. Also, the common man is not vaccinated for anthrax. Thus we remain at risk if there is an anthrax attack. Hence, these 2 reasons of longevity and lack of widespread vaccination make anthrax a scary and popular bioweapon worldwide. Today bacillus anthracis remains one of the most well-known and feared bioweapons. The spores could be used as aerosols which would cause inhalation anthrax, as food-poison which would cause gasto-intestinal anthrax or in any form which would cause cutaneous anthrax. Stress is usually laid on inhalation-anthrax and gastro-intestinal anthrax is neglected but we should not ignore the fact that the anthrax spores can be used as bioweapon to poison the food or water. So we the dental fraternity should be aware of the oral manifestations of gastro-intestinal anthrax. We should be prepared to identify the lesions if at all there is an attack of anthrax. The professionals should be well trained to identify the symptoms in case of an attack.
There are 3 major clinlcal forms of anthrax. They are; Cutaneous anthrax, Pulmonary anthrax and Gastro-intestinal-anthrax.
Symptoms of cutaneous anthrax
• Raised itchy bump - this gradually becomes an ulcer
• Skin ulcer - with a central black dying area
Symptoms of Pulmonary Anthrax
• Cold-like symptoms
• Sore throat
• Mild fever
• Muscle aches
• Malaise
• Nasal congestion - not in all cases
• Runny nose - not in all cases
• Severe breathing problems
• Shock
• Meningitis
Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Anthrax
• Nausea
• Loss of appetite
• Vomiting
• Fever
• Abdominal pain
• Vomiting of blood
• Severe diarrhea
• Reddish-brown, ulcerated sore
• Internal hemorrhage
• Muscle pain
• Headache
• Cough

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