Disease & Vaccine Information

Anthrax & Anthrax Vaccine Quick Facts

Updated September 09, 2022


Bioweponized Anthrax

Anthrax

  • Anthrax is a rare but serious bacterial infection. It can enter the bloodstream from a cut in the skin, inhaling anthrax spores into the lungs, swallowing anthrax spores, or injecting anthrax contaminated heroin. The anthrax bacteria is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person;1
  • The most common way to become infected is through the skin by direct exposure to an infected animal, animal waste and by-products, or contaminated soil. Veterinarians, farmers, or researchers working with animals are at higher risk of being infected by anthrax;2 3
  • If left untreated, lethal toxins from the anthrax bacteria can multiply in the body and kill quickly. The mortality rate for untreated skin acquired (cutaneous) is 10 to 20 percent but rare if antibiotic therapy is promptly started;4
  • The mortality rate for anthrax acquired by inhaling into the lungs, through the gastrointestinal tract, or by injection is higher than cutaneous anthrax;5
  • One of the biggest concerns regarding anthrax is its potential use in a bioterrorist attack. In 2001, 22 individuals developed anthrax (11 inhalation and 11 cutaneous) in the U.S. because of a bioterrorism attack.6 There has never been a successful delivery of weaponized inhalation anthrax to any large population through a bomb, missile, crop duster, or other means.

Anthrax Vaccine

  • Anthrax vaccine is licensed for use in adults between the ages of 18 and 65 who are at high risk for exposure to anthrax bacteria. There is no anthrax vaccine licensed for use in children, and the vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women;7
  • Biothrax anthrax vaccine manufactured by Emergent BioSolutions is recommended for persons considered high-risk for anthrax exposure. These include U.S. military members deployed to areas of the world considered high-risk, veterinarians or persons handling animals or animal byproducts, and laboratory workers working with the anthrax bacterium (B. anthracis);8
  • A series of five shots is given (3 primary and 2 booster doses), and individuals are not considered protected until they have had the full series. Not all individuals who receive the anthrax vaccine may be protected, but there is very limited data on the effectiveness of the vaccine for inhalation anthrax;9
  • Reported mild to moderate anthrax vaccine reactions include local swelling, pain, and redness at the injection site, fever, chills, and nausea that resolve without permanent damage. Severe anthrax vaccine reaction reports include autoimmune and brain dysfunction, chronic disabling fatigue, persistent headaches, severe joint pain and crippling arthritis, numbness, and muscle weakness, paralysis, brain inflammation, seizures, and permanent memory loss, and death.10 11
  • Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of August 31, 2022, there were 9,261 adverse events reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) for anthrax-containing vaccines. Of those reports, over 83 percent occurred in adults ages 17 to 44. Within the total number of VAERS reports, there were 31 deaths reported, with over half of the deaths reportedly occurring in adults 17 to 44 years of age.

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC “Quick Facts” is not a substitute for becoming fully informed about anthrax and the anthrax vaccine. NVIC recommends consumers read comprehensive information NVIC provides on anthrax, the vaccine manufacturer product information inserts, and speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Department of Defense (DOD)

MilVax information about anthrax, anthrax vaccine, and mandatory anthrax vaccination policies of the U.S. military. 

Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients

Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more

Search for Vaccine Reactions

NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more. 

Reporting a Vaccine Reaction

Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS. 


References:

[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of Anthrax. In: Anthrax. Nov. 20, 2020.

[2] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How People Get Anthrax. In: Anthrax. Nov. 20, 2020.

[3] Medline Plus. Anthrax. In: Health Topics. Mar. 10, 2021.

[4] Sweeney DA, Hicks CW, Cui X et al. Anthrax infectionAm J Respir Crit Care Med. Dec. 2011;184(12):1333‐1341.

[5] Sweeney DA, Hicks CW, Cui X et al. Anthrax infectionAm J Respir Crit Care Med. Dec. 2011;184(12):1333‐1341.

[6] Jernigan DB, Raghunathan PL, Bell BP et al. Investigation of Bioterrorism-Related Anthrax, United States, 2001: Epidemiologic Findings. Emerg Infect Dis. Oct. 2002;8(10):1019-1028.

[7] Bower WA, Schiffer J, Atmar RL, et al. Use of Anthrax Vaccine in the United States: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, 2019 MMWR Dec. 13, 2019; 68(4):1–14.

[8] Bower WA, Schiffer J, Atmar RL, et al. Use of Anthrax Vaccine in the United States: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, 2019 MMWR Dec. 13, 2019; 68(4):1–14.

[9] Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing LLC. Package Insert and Information for Patients – Biothrax. Feb. 20, 2018.

[10] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Assess the Safety and Efficacy of the Anthrax Vaccine. The Anthrax Vaccine Is It Safe? Does It Work? Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2002.

[11] Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing LLC. Package Insert and Information for Patients – Biothrax. Feb. 20, 2018.

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