The Deadly Past, Present, and Future
Which organisms are affected by anthrax and a little history behind animal infections

           The animals that are most commonly infected with anthrax are cattle, sheep, goats, horses, rats and birds.  More often than not, the disease is contracted when an animal consumes contaminated soil.  Unfortunately for the animals, once the spores reach its bloodstream, a new generation of bacteria are born.  This fact is what lead to the discovery that a specific microorganism could cause a specific disease in an animal.  Herbivores are much more susceptible to the deadliness of the disease, but carnivores also face mortality.  Seen is that if an animal suddenly dies without many symptoms except for a possible brief period of fever and disorientation, the animal should be tested for the presence of anthrax.  Symptoms that can be seen post-mortem that suggest presence of anthrax spores include bloody fluid leaking from the nose, mouth, and anus, lack of rigor mortis, and bloating that sets in quickly and completely. 

           In 1942, Gruinard Island (off the coast of Scotland) served as a test site for the British government.  “Bombs” of anthrax were detonated on the island which was inhabited only by sheep, and within days, most of the sheep had died.  The bomb detonations did not affect the anthrax spores, which lead to the conclusion that they are resistant to extreme heat, and thus one of the most lethal of existing chemical weapons at this point in history.  Soil on the island remained heavily contaminated with the anthrax spores for decades, and was disinfected only after a clean-up conducted between 1986 and 1987 when 280 tons of formaldehyde were dumped on the island.  This test lead to the nickname “Anthrax Island”.  Since then further experiments have shown that the only effective ways to kill anthrax spores is through use of steam sterilization or boiling.  While the number of sheep fatalities was high on Gruinard Island, the British government learned vital information concerning anthrax, how it infects animals, and its longevity in the soil.


           In domesticated animals, a live attenuated vaccine was one of the first vaccines ever developed.  A live attenuated vaccine is a vaccine created through use of a virus (in this case, an anthrax virus) that is no longer able to infect.  While they are no longer able to infect organisms, the virus is now able to help immunity against infection.  This vaccine lead to the development of a non-living vaccine which eventually lead to the licensed protein-based vaccine that has been approved by the FDA since the 1970s.  Today, the vaccine is recommended to people who have occupational hazards of contracting anthrax.  This includes mail-people, farmers, and wool-workers.  For those who have occupational hazards of coming in contact with anthrax, three shots are required in order to effectively immunize against infection.  After the three initial shots are administered, annual booster are required to keep immunity levels sufficiently high.

           If you are interested in learning about live animals that are infected by anthrax, follow any of the following links.  One of my classmates in Spring of 2008 created a website on
Equus caballus, a domestic horse.  Also in Spring 2008, a classmate chose to create a website on Equus grevyi, Grevy’s zebra. Finally, in Spring of 2007, a website was created concerning Bos taurus, the domestic cow.  I highly recommend any and all of these websites to someone searching for more very interesting information.


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