- The AnthraX Chronicles Part 1| Spills of the Fort Detrick Kind
- The AnthraX Chronicles Part 2 | Pakistan, Rabbit Fever & Duct Tape
- The AnthraX Chronicles Part 3 | Anthrax Letters Revisited| Deliberate Deception
- The AnthraX Chronicles Part 4 | Hero In The Morning, Bio-Terrorist By Night
- The AnthraX Chronicles Part 5 | Bruce Ivins: Deep Into The Dust
Anthrax isn’t a typical bacteria. It’s practically immortal. As a spore, it can survive in a dormant state for decades, perhaps even centuries. It is caused by a gram-positive, toxigenic, spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax naturally occurs in grazing animals (cattle, sheep, and goats), as these species are the most susceptible to the bacteria, but virtually all mammals—including horses and humans—can contract this disease.
The term anthrax is derived from the Greek word “anthracites,” meaning coal-like, referring to the typical black eschar seen in the cutaneous form of the disease.
Anthrax became famous in medical circles for being the first disease to which a bacterial cause could be firmly linked, and it was touted as the “first bacterial disease for which a vaccine was made available.” The disease caused by anthrax was officially recognized in the late 1870s by Dr. Robert Koch in Berlin. In 1881, Louis Pasteur in France developed a vaccine. Anthrax served as the prototype for Koch’s famous postulates regarding the transmission of infectious diseases. You know, Germ Theory.
Personally, I didn’t know that anthrax was regarded as a “disease.”
When the spores happen to enter an animal, anthrax springs back to life and starts reproducing. Part of the allure is that the bacteria cannot be spread from person to person. In nature, anthrax is transmitted through infected meat or animal skin.
According to the NIH,
Anthrax toxin comprises three parts: protective antigen (PA), which binds to target cell surfaces, and two enzymes that enter the cell to cause damage. PA, resembling a bundle of seven cigar-shaped parts, is referred to as “polyvalent,” as it displays multiple binding sites.
Bacillus anthracis produces mutant offspring as it multiplies. But those mutants have trouble going dormant. When the anthrax loses its host, many mutants die out and the bacteria returns to a near-pure state. It’s almost as if the law of evolution doesn’t apply.
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