Published: Sunday 12th of June 2022 10:04:03 PM
Five things you need to know about anthrax

As deadly pathogens go, few have a reputation as fearsome as anthrax. In 2001, a week after the September 11 attacks, powdered anthrax was put into letters and mailed to media outlets and senators in the US, infecting 22 people with anthrax and killing five. This act led to the US government and other countries across Europe mounting anthrax preparedness plans that involved the scanning of countless pieces of mail.

The ancient bacterium is thought to have originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Academics believe that the Greek poet Homer wrote about anthrax as the “burning plague” in The Iliadaround 700 BC and some have even suggested that it was anthrax behind the plague that contributed to the fall of ancient Rome.

This week, Sierra Leone reported its first anthrax outbreak this week in 28 years and more than 200 heads of livestock in the country’s northwestern region died. Bioterrorism and grazing livestock may seem to have little in common but the bacterium linking both causes a zoonotic disease that can wreak devastation.

Anthrax can be deadly, and on a large scale – in 1770, an epidemic that killed 15,000 people in what is now Haiti is thought to have been intestinal anthrax caused by uncooked beef. 

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