When anthrax is inhaled, the spores are surrounded by macrophages, large white blood cells that serve as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens. Instead of succumbing to this assault, the bacteria survive and reproduce within the white cells. They eventually invade the lymph nodes and enter the blood stream, causing widespread infection, disease and death. Although anthrax is a naturally occurring, recent attention has focused on its use as a biological weapon. The most lethal form of anthrax infection results from inhalation of spores containing the rod-shaped bacterium Bacillus anthracis.
The anthrax bug swiftly disarms the sentinels of the body's immune system, hampering their ability to defend against the potentially lethal bioterrorism agent, a new federal study shows.
The results suggest medical treatment to boost the immune system at the earliest stages of infection could counteract the toxin that anthrax produces in its initial attack. Antibiotics, like Cipro, could be used in concert to kill the bacteria themselves.
Tests conducted in mouse macrophage cells by NIEHS grantees at the University of California at San Diego show that the anthrax bacteria produce a toxin called lethal factor that disables a key protein necessary for normal immune function. Loss of this protein results in the death of the macrophages and prevents the secretion of chemicals that alert the immune system to the presence of an invading pathogen. This allows the bacteria to escape detection and spread throughout the body.
The threat of anthrax as a biological weapon has become a *real concern for everyone. Anthrax is a disease caused not by a virus, but rather by bacteria. There aren't any known cases of anthrax passing from one person to another, so it is considered to be noncontagious. It is still a large threat, however, because if it isn't recognized and treated quickly enough it can be deadly. Bacillus anthracis is the bacterium that causes the disease anthrax. It has historically affected herbivores like cattle, sheep or other grazing herds, but has also been a threat to humans who work with these animals and their by-products.