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Anthrax: Its Background and Origins

             Because it is so hard and rare to be able to distinguish undoubtedly between the different strains of anthrax, it has been determined that they share a recent common phylogenetic ancestor.  The two strains have been termed Anthrax A and Anthrax B.  Anthrax B only occurs in approximately 11% of all cases, and can only be seen in southern Africa.  Because both strains can be found in Africa, scientists have come to the conclusion that the origin of anthrax is Africa. 

           Today, anthrax can be found in the developing countries found in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Mexico.  It can also be found very rarely in parts of the United States.  In parts of Asia, South America, and Africa, anthrax has a serious economic impact on agricultural and dairy industries.  Because of the infection being more common among animals, the highest human occurrences of the disease in the world can also be seen in these areas.

           Anthrax spores have the capability to remain dormant in soil and on certain plants for decades at a time.  Soil is the most common place the spores can be found, and as a result of this they have been called one of the most stable of the bacterium spores.  Some of the factors that welcome the presence of  anthrax spores include nitrogen levels found in the soil, soil with a pH higher than 6.0, temperatures higher than fifteen degrees Celsius, and climate changes that are rapid and often surprising. 

           When outside a human or animal vector,
Bacillus anthracis exists in suspended animation as an endospore.  Once inside a human or animal though, it converts to the vegetative form.  The vegetative form of anthrax is the form that leads to infection and causes diseases.  Fortunately, it is a poor survivor and if the requirements both nutritionally and concentration wise are not met according to the above requirements, the vegetative form will die. 

Public Domain image of photomicrograph of anthrax spores.
Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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