Preventing Exposure to Anthrax at Certain Jobs | Anthrax

June 8, 2024
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Overview

Anthrax is rare, and most people will never be exposed to it. Anthrax is not contagious, which means you can’t catch it from another person like the cold or flu.

There are jobs and activities that can put some people at greater risk of exposure than others. These jobs and activities include:

  • Working in a laboratory that handles anthrax
  • Working with animals or handling animal products
  • Traveling in certain parts of the world
  • In the event of a bioterrorist attack, handling mail, working for the military, and supporting emergency response activities

People can also be exposed to anthrax during a bioterrorism event. Learn more about what to do if you are exposed to anthrax in a bioterrorism event.

Risk factors

Laboratory professionals

Laboratory workers who handle anthrax may be at risk for being exposed if proper safety precautions aren’t followed.

People who handle animal products

Although it’s rare, people can get anthrax after having contact with infected animals or their products, such as wool, hides, or hair. For this reason, people in certain occupations, like veterinarians, farmers, livestock producers, and others who handle animals and animal products may have an increased risk of exposure.

You can’t tell by looking at a hide if it is contaminated with anthrax spores. If you work with them, be sure to use hides from animals from the United States or animals that were imported with an international veterinary certificate. This certificate shows that they have undergone the appropriate government inspection.

If you work with animals or handle animal products that may have come from an area where anthrax regularly occurs, these precautions can reduce your risk of exposure to anthrax:

  • Work in a well-ventilated workspace.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including properly fitted face mask or respirator (N-95), eye protection, and protective gloves.
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Do not put your fingers in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wear a designated pair of work shoes.
  • Cover all exposed skin with clothing.
  • Remove and wash your clothes (with regular detergent) onsite.
  • Maintain a clean workspace.
  • Clean the workspace with a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum.
  • Do not vigorously shake or beat animal hides.

Mail handlers, military personnel, and response workers

Certain workers could be exposed to anthrax in the event of a bioterrorist attack, either during the attack or when responding to the emergency. Workers who could be at risk include mail handlers (if spores are sent through the mail), law enforcement personnel, healthcare workers, decontamination workers, and critical infrastructure workers.

Recommendations for protecting workers are available from CDC’s Anthrax Worker Safety page. This guidance covers the use of respirators, protective clothing, and the anthrax vaccine.

Travelers

Anthrax can be found naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world, but it is most common in agricultural regions of Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and southwestern Asia, Southern and eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. If you are visiting these areas, do not eat raw or undercooked meat and avoid contact with livestock, animal products, and animal carcasses. Be mindful about the souvenirs you bring home as well.

Vaccination against anthrax is not recommended for travelers and is not available for civilian travelers.

International travelers should be aware of regulations concerning and restrictions against the importation of prohibited animal products, trophies, and souvenirs. Learn more about how these affect anthrax risks in CDC’s Yellow Book on the Travelers’ Health website.

Post-exposure prophylaxis and treatment

Anthrax vaccine and treatment

Sometimes anthrax vaccine is recommended for people who are at higher risk of exposure to anthrax or may have been exposed to anthrax. Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA) does not have anthrax bacteria in the vaccine, and it cannot give people anthrax. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its use for routine occupational use before exposure and for emergency use after a possible exposure.

Routine occupational use (before exposure)

The anthrax vaccine is approved for adults ages 18 to 65 years in certain jobs. People who decide to get the vaccine will get 5 shots over 18 months and will get yearly boosters for protection. Anthrax vaccine is recommended for people who hold the following jobs:

  • Certain laboratory workers who work with anthrax
  • Some members of the United States military
  • People whose jobs are handling animals or animal products

People with the following conditions should not get the vaccine before exposure:

  • Pregnancy
  • Serious allergic reaction to the anthrax vaccine
  • Severe allergy to any part of the anthrax vaccine

People with severe allergies should tell their doctor about their allergies before getting the vaccine.

Emergency use (after exposure)

Anthrax vaccine is approved for use after exposure in people aged 18 to 65. In these situations, the vaccine is given after anthrax exposure to prevent the disease (post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP). There are two types of anthrax vaccines approved by the FDA to use as PEP:

  • AVA, which consists of 3 shots of anthrax vaccine over 4 weeks
  • AVA adjuvanted, which consists of 2 shots given 2 weeks apart.

In both cases, people exposed to anthrax will also get antibiotics for up to 60 days.

In an emergency, the only people who shouldn’t get the vaccine are people with a past serious allergic reaction to the anthrax vaccine. These individuals should take antibiotics for 60 days.

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