Anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. These bacteria live in the soil and both domestic and wild animals can get infected by them. It mainly affects grazing animals (cows, sheep, goats, antelope, deer) when they eat contaminated grass or drink contaminated water. People are usually infected through contact with sick animals or their tissues or by eating raw or undercooked meat and other products from sick animals. There have also been cases of people being infected by touching drums made with animal hides.

There are three types of anthrax illness, depending on how the bacteria entered the body:

  • Cutaneous anthrax – you got infected through a cut or scrape on your skin. This can happen by handling infected animals or their products, such as wool or hide. This form of the disease causes lesions and ulcers on the skin. With antibiotic treatment, you can recover but when the disease is untreated, you may suffer serious harm and it can even cause death.
  • Inhalation anthrax – you got infected by breathing in the bacteria. People who handle infected animals or work at wool mills, slaughterhouses or tanneries may breathe in the bacteria. This form of the disease starts in the chest and causes severe breathing problems. Without treatment, inhalation anthrax almost always results in death. With treatment, about a half of patients survive.
  • Gastrointestinal anthrax – you got infected by eating raw or undercooked meat from an animal infected with anthrax. This form of the disease causes a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. Without treatment, more than a half of infected people die but with treatment, around 60 per cent survive.

By avoiding meat and animal products, you greatly reduce your risk of getting infected. If you do catch the disease and it’s diagnosed early, anthrax can be treated with antibiotics. Having a healthy, varied vegan diet supports your health and makes your immune system better able to fight the infection.For people who are at high risk of infection – eg vets, laboratory workers or military personnel – vaccines are available.