Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) is an acute infectious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a spore-forming bacterium. Anthracis spores can live in the soil for many years where they periodically cause lethal infection following inhalation by mostly rudiments. Animals that have died of anthrax are teeming with the infectious spores and occasionally humans contract the disease when they are exposed to contaminated aerosols or animal products. Cutaneous anthrax is the most common form and begins as a sore on the face, arms or hands, developing into a painless ulcer with a black, necrotic center. Patients suffering from the less common inhalational anthrax may have fever, non-productive cough, chest discomfort, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, headache, and vomiting. This rapidly progresses to multi-organ failure resulting from bloodstream invasion by this toxin-producing pathogen. The case fatality rate of cutaneous anthrax is 10-20% while that of inhalational anthrax is 30-70% even with antibiotic treatment. Anthrax is not transmitted from person to person.
Although natural prevalence or occurrence of Anthrax in the United States is sporadic, B. anthracis spores were used as a weapon in the 2001 Amerithrax bioterrorist attack. Distribution of anthrax spores through the US postal system resulted in 22 human cases of anthrax, 11 of which were inhalational with 5 deaths. Antibiotic treatment failed to prevent human death in several of these cases.
Scientists at the University of Missouri study how proteins are displayed on the surface of Bacillus spores, including B. anthracis. At the LIDR, these scientists look for new therapeutic approaches that target the hard-to-kill anthracis spore and prevent its infectivity.