Following numerous incidents involving anthrax in North America, and even investigations in Sioux Lookout and Sioux Narrows/Nestor Falls, the North-western Health Unit has released information regarding the bacteria apparently being used as a biological weapon.
“The Northwestern Health Unit has been receiving several calls regarding potential exposure to anthrax,” it said in a press release yesterday afternoon.
“At this time, there has not been any evidence that anthrax has been used as a biological weapon in Ontario or elsewhere in Canada,” the release noted.
Below is some information gleaned from the Health Canada Web site (
•Is anthrax easy to contract?
No. It is a disease that is found in wild animals and domestic animals (i.e., cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and antelopes) and you have to inhale it, eat it, or put it in an open wound in order to contract anthrax.
•Is anthrax contagious?
No. Anthrax cannot be transmitted person-to-person.
•What is anthrax?
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by bacteria called Bacillus anthracis.
•How do you contract anthrax?
There are three ways of contracting anthrax:
1. Inhalation—anthrax spores are breathed in through the nose or mouth;
2. Cutaneous—the spores enter the body through an open wound on the skin, such as a cut or abrasion when handling contaminated products or infected animals;
3. Intestinal—the disease may occur after eating contaminated meat.
•What are the symptoms of anthrax?
The incubation period for inhalation of anthrax is between one-six days, but may be longer. Symptoms of the disease vary depending on how the disease was contracted.
If the spores are inhaled, the first signs of disease usually are ’flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, cough, and mild chest discomfort, rapidly followed by severe respiratory distress and shock.
In the case of cutaneous infection, they include painless blisters or purple patches.
•How is anthrax diagnosed?
Anthrax is diagnosed by isolating the bacteria from the blood, skin lesions, or respiratory secretions, or by measuring specific antibodies in the blood of persons with suspected cases.
•Is there a treatment for anthrax disease?
Anthrax disease can be controlled with antibiotics taken early after exposure. A strict regimen of antibiotics over a period of 60 days is the usual treatment.
If left untreated, the disease can be fatal.
Health Canada, in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, has been stockpiling a significant amount of antibiotics in the event of an anthrax outbreak.
•Can anthrax be prevented?
Yes. It can be prevented by avoiding eating contaminated meat that has not been properly slaughtered and cooked, or by avoiding contact with contaminated animal products (i.e., hides or internal organs).
•What about a vaccine to prevent anthrax disease?
A vaccine to protect against inhalation anthrax has been used for many years for people with a high likelihood of occupational exposure to anthrax (e.g., veterinarians).
The vaccine is not practical for widespread use as it is not 100 percent effective, there may be side effects, and it has to be taken many times over 18 months for it to become effective.
•Has there ever been a case of anthrax in Canada?
Human anthrax is unusual in North America. The last reported case of anthrax in Canada was in 1990 and it was a cutaneous case.
•What should I do if I receive a suspicious package or envelope?
Do not open it, touch it, nor taste it. Isolate the package by leaving it and securing the area.
Immediately call 911 and report your concerns so that local hazard material management officials and/or police enforcement agencies can intervene, if required.
If you believe you have been in contact with a suspicious package or envelope, wash your hands immediately.
Then you should contact a physician or go to the emergency department of your local hospital.