Updated 08 July 2014

Anthrax-infected beef hospitalises people in Hungary

Five people in Hungary are being monitored and treated for possible anthrax infection.


The Veterinary authority NEBIH has identified an infection of deadly anthrax in beef in Heves County, located in eastern Hungary. Health care professionals are currently monitoring five people who have been hospitalized for suspected symptoms of the disease, and are treating those who could have come into contact with the contaminated beef and animals residing in the area of infection with antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

The disease was found in frozen beef after two cattle were illegally slaughtered, improperly stored and transported from a farm in Tiszafured, a town about 160 km east of Budapest, to a company that operates restaurants and hotels. According to the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service, the company’s kitchen has since been closed.  

Read: Anthrax vaccine to be tested on children

Though officials have determined that there is no immediate risk of the disease spreading, authorities have asked that people who think they might have come into contact with the contaminated beef see a doctor.

Anthrax, an acute infectious disease found most commonly in developing countries, is caused by bacterium Bacillus anthracis, a spore-forming bacterium. The disease is soil borne, and the bacterium can live in soil for more than 90 years.

Though anthrax commonly affects herbivorous mammals, such as sheep, cattle, antelope and goats, diseased animals can pass the virus on to humans through exposure. Any person who handles products from an infected animal or inhales anthrax spores from an infected animal is at risk of contracting anthrax. However, transmission of anthrax from person-to-person is highly unlikely.

People can contract anthrax three different types of ways, and the symptoms of anthrax depend on how the disease was contracted.

About 95 percent of anthrax infections are cutaneous, affecting the skin. A person can contract anthrax if the bacterium enters through any cuts or abrasions on the skin. The infection starts out similar to a bug bite, it becomes swollen and itchy, but within a day or two the infection develops into an ulcer about 1 to 3 cm in diameter.

Read: Anthrax vaccine shows promise in monkeys

Inhalation anthrax, which affects the lungs and resembles a common cold, can be contracted when a person breathes in bacteria spores. After a few days, inhalation anthrax patients may develop severe breathing problems and shock.

Gastrointestinal anthrax, which affects the digestive system, occurs when a person consumes infected meat. Initial symptoms of this type of anthrax include a loss of appetite, nausea, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea and bleeding when vomiting.

Antibiotics such as penicillin, ciprofloxacine and doxycycline can often cure anthrax if patients are diagnosed and treated early; however, most people remain unaware of their contracted disease until it is too late to treat. About 20 percent of cutaneous anthrax patients, 80 percent of inhalation anthrax patients and 25 to 60 percent of gastrointestinal anthrax patients will die unless treated early and intensively with antibiotics.

Since the bioterror attacks that took place in the United States in 2001, when someone intentionally spread anthrax through the U.S. mail, infecting 22 people and killing five, anthrax has been considered a potential agent for use in bioterrorism.  

Read more:

Lab safety problem in US causes health scare
Research combines smallpox, anthrax vaccines
Vulnerability to anthrax varies

Sources: Reuters, NBC, BBC, Yahoo, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NDA and National Institutes of Health




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