What is the prevalence of anthrax in the US?

Updated: Apr 05, 2021
  • Author: David J Cennimo, MD, FAAP, FACP, AAHIVS; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Natural incidence is rare, but infection is an occupational hazard among veterinarians, farmers, and individuals who handle animal wool, hair, hides, or bone meal products. During the last 30 years, the indigenous US incidence of any anthrax infection has been less than 1 case per year. From 1955–1994, US cases totaled 235, with 224 cases of cutaneous anthrax, 11 cases of inhalational anthrax, and 20 fatalities. The last fatal case during this period occurred in 1976, when a home craftsman died of inhalational anthrax after working with yarn imported from Pakistan.

Before October 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated several threats in the United States, including Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and California. In October 2001, 22 confirmed or suspected cases of anthrax infection were identified. Cases were reported from Florida, New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut. There were 11 confirmed cases of inhalational anthrax (5 deaths) and 7 confirmed and 4 suspected cases of cutaneous anthrax (no deaths).

Seven cases were associated with occupational exposures in the postal service, and 2 cases had documented exposures to contaminated mail in the business office of a media company. No sources of exposure were identified for 2 women who were presumably exposed to secondarily contaminated mail. No reports in the literature have documented direct human-to-human transmission.

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