Official websites use

A website belongs to an official government organization in the City of Boston.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Heat Emergency in Boston
Mayor Wu announced a heat emergency in the City of Boston through Wednesday, July 17. Cooling centers will be open at 14 BCYF community centers Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Last updated:


This fact sheet explains the symptoms and treatment related to anthrax.

Anthrax is a disease caused by bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in animals, but it can also infect people. Anthrax has the potential to be used as a biological weapon. In late 2001, terrorism related anthrax cases happened in several locations in Connecticut, New York City, New Jersey, Florida and Washington DC.

The basics

How is anthrax spread?

Anthrax spreads by touching it with an open wound, breathing it in, or eating meat contaminated with anthrax. It is not contagious. An infected person cannot give it to others.

Can I acquire anthrax from another person?

Person-to-person spread of anthrax is not known to occur. Only people directly exposed to anthrax spores could develop disease.


What are the symptoms of anthrax?

Symptoms vary depending on how a person contracts anthrax. Symptoms usually occur within 7 days, but can take up to 60 days to appear.

  • Cutaneous (skin form): Most anthrax infections occur when bacteria enter through a cut on the skin.  The infection begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite. Within 1-2 days it develops into a blister. The blister ulcerates and forms a black area in the center. With prompt treatment, the vast majority of people make a full recovery
  • Inhalation: Initial symptoms may resemble the flu with fever, chills, and muscle aches. After several days, the symptoms progress to severe breathing problems and shock. In the past, death occurred 1-2 days after the onset of symptoms
  • Intestinal: This form of anthrax occurs from eating contaminated meat. Symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever. Following these symptoms you will experience abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea

Testing & prevention

What is being done to prepare for a possible anthrax attack in Boston?

The BPHC has worked with state and federal agencies to better prepare for an anthrax attack. Plans and procedures are in place to respond to an attack and ensure the safety of residents. Hospitals, health care providers, and emergency response personnel have the education and training to better respond to an attack. In Massachusetts, you must report all cases of suspected anthrax immediately to local health departments so they can conduct the appropriate follow-up can. In Boston, you should report suspect cases to the BPHC at 617-534-5611.

Click here to learn more about anthrax from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Is there a treatment for anthrax?

Doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics that work against anthrax. To be effective, treatment should be initiated early. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal. With treatment and supportive care, the death rate following the 2001 anthrax bioterrorism outbreak was approximately 50%.

What happens if I have been exposed to anthrax but I am not yet sick?

If you have been exposed to anthrax, but have not yet developed symptoms, you will receive antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, or amoxicillin). You may also get the anthrax vaccine to prevent infection with anthrax.

Is there an anthrax vaccine?

Yes, there is a limited amount of anthrax vaccine available in the United States. Those in a high risk group include anyone potentially exposed to anthrax, certain members of the U.S. armed forces, laboratory workers, and workers who may enter or re-enter anthrax contaminated areas. In the event of weaponized anthrax attack, people exposed may be offered the vaccine.

Back to top