Image shows the cycle of infection in anthraxCycle of infection in anthrax. The spore is central to the cycle, although vegetative forms may also play a role in establishing infection. Source: Anthrax in humans and animals, fourth edition. WHO. Click for a larger viewAnthrax is a disease caused by a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. It has existed for hundreds of years and still occurs naturally in both animals and humans in many parts of the world, including Asia, southern Europe, sub-Sahelian Africa and parts of Australia. Anthrax bacteria can survive in the environment by forming spores. In its most common natural form, it creates dark sores on the skin, from which it derives its name.

Humans generally acquire the disease directly or indirectly from infected animals, or through occupational exposure to infected or contaminated animal products. Control in livestock is therefore the key to reduced incidence. The disease is generally regarded as being non-contagious. Records of person-to-person spread exist, but are rare.

Control of anthrax among humans depends on the integration of veterinary and human health surveillance and control programmes. Routine cross-notification between the veterinary and human health surveillance systems should be part of any zoonotic disease prevention and control programme, and close collaboration between the two health sectors is particularly important during epidemiological and outbreak investigations.