Health officials in Beijing reported a case of inhalation anthrax on Aug. 8. The patient, a resident of Chengde city in northern Hebei Province, had contact with infected animals, authorities said.
The patient is quarantined and is currently receiving treatment at a hospital in Beijing, according to the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The patient was transported from Hebei to Beijing, four days after showing symptoms.
Health officials said the patient had come into close contact with cattle, sheep, goats, and products derived from such animals. No further details were disclosed, including the patient’s personal information, during Monday’s press conference.
Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, usually transmitted from animals, especially ruminants such as cattle, goats, deer, and sheep. Although rare, humans can get anthrax if they come into contact with infected animals’ skin, fur, or meat. People in certain occupations that work closely with animals such as veterinarians and farmers may have an increased risk of exposure.
Anthrax is not contagious like the cold or flu. Anthrax gets into the body through the skin, lungs, or gastrointestinal system.
People with inhalation anthrax experience flu-like symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection “starts primarily in the lymph nodes in the chest before spreading throughout the rest of the body, ultimately causing severe breathing problems and shock.” About 55 percent of patients survive with aggressive treatment.
People infected with cutaneous anthrax (infection through the skin caused by a cut or scrape), are easily treated with antibiotics, according to the CDC. This type of infection may cause symptoms like small itching blisters or bumps, which may develop into a painless skin sore with a black center.
China’s state-run China News Service reported on April 2018 that three Chinese farmers in Haiyuan county, in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of central China, were infected with anthrax and authorities claimed that the situation was under control at the time. However, a month later, Russian authorities issued a travel alert to its citizens and warned them about traveling to central China due to the anthrax outbreak.
Anthrax remains a global health concern, as its mortality rate can be up to 90 percent if a person breathes in the spores, according to the CDC.
In September 2001, letters containing anthrax spores in the form of fine powder began appearing in the U.S. postal system. The letters were delivered to Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington; and the recipients included two Senators and several media outlets. Five people died and 22 others were infected from inhalation anthrax. The FBI conducted a seven-year investigation into the attack, referred to as Amerithrax, and described it as “one of the largest and most complex in the history of law enforcement.”
According to the CDC, anthrax cases rarely occur in the United States, but it had been used as a bioweapon since World War I.