Anthrax Q & A: Anthrax and Animal Hides
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus
anthracis . Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic lower vertebrates (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes,
and other herbivores), when they ingest spores from soil, but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected
animals or to tissue from infected animals or when anthrax spores are used as a bioterrorist weapon. For more detailed information
about anthrax, see http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/faq/
How is anthrax transmitted?
B. anthracis spores can live in the soil for many years, and
humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by inhaling anthrax spores from contaminated
animal products. Anthrax can also be spread by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. It is rare to find infected
animals in the United States .
Am I at risk for anthrax from animal hides or hair, or from making a drum from these products?
hides pose a low risk of cutaneous (skin) anthrax, and an extremely low risk of inhalation anthrax. Exotic animal hides may
pose a higher risk for exposure than domestic (U.S.-origin) hides. The risk of contracting Bacillus anthracis from
handling individual hides is believed to be very low; however, the industrial processing of hides or hair has historically
been associated with increased risk of anthrax. Such industrial handling of large numbers of hides or hair from multiple animals
results in prolonged direct contact with contaminated materials, often in enclosed or poorly ventilated settings. Among the
236 cases of anthrax reported to CDC from 1955 to 1999, 153 (65%) were associated with industrial handling of animal hide
or hair. Only 9 of the 153 cases (6%) associated with industrial handling of hair or hide were inhalation anthrax.
Am I at risk for anthrax from my souvenir animal hide drum?
The risk of acquiring anthrax from an
animal hide drum is very low. Of 236 cases of anthrax reported to CDC from 1955 through 1999, only one case of cutaneous anthrax
was associated with a goat hide bongo drum purchased in Haiti . No cases of inhalation anthrax in the US have ever been associated
with animal hide drums. The New York patient's exposure occurred when he was making and finishing drums made from untanned
animal hides, and was not associated with playing finished drums. His exposure was similar to that experienced during industrial
handling of hides, which has previously been associated with an increased risk of anthrax. CDC does not currently recommend
prophylaxis for persons who have had contact with animal hide drums. However, drum owners or players should report any unexplained
fever or new skin lesions to their healthcare provider, and describe their recent contact with animal hide drums.
Why did the New York City resident get anthrax?
The drum maker in NYC mechanically removed the hair
from untanned animal hides using a razor in a small and poorly ventilated workspace and without respiratory protection. This
process can aerosolize spores present on the hides. Therefore, this appears to be an isolated case of naturally occurring
anthrax. There is no evidence of bioterrorism or risk to the general public.
Is there a way to treat cattle or goat hides to render them safe for use in making drums?
processing methods may reduce the risk of disease from handling animal hides, including:
- Heat (heated to an internal temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) or placed in boiling water for
a minimum of 30 minutes)
- Preservation in 2 percent formaldehyde
- Chemically treating in acidic or alkaline solutions (soaking in a solution below pH 3.0 or above pH 11.5 for 24 hours)
- The use of hypertonic salts.
- Traditional tanning methods
How can I further protect myself if I work with hides that may be potentially contaminated with anthrax spores?
engaged in making drums should only use animal hides that have been processed to reduce the chance of infectious disease transmission.
Persons with ongoing exposure to untreated animal hides should consult with a professional to determine appropriate personal
protective equipment and risk mitigation measures. While these measures may help reduce the risk of acquiring anthrax infection,
they cannot be presumed to eliminate it. Any unexplained febrile illness or skin lesions should immediately be reported to
a healthcare professional, and the history of contact with untanned or untreated animal hides should be explained.
What if I worked with hides and I am concerned about exposure to anthrax?
If you are concerned that
you may have handled an animal hide contaminated with anthrax spores, contact your state or local health department. Any unexplained
febrile illness or skin lesions should immediately be reported to a healthcare professional, and the history of contact with
untreated or untanned animal hides should be explained.
May I import souvenir animal hide drums?
Haitian goat hide drums have been previously linked to a
case of cutaneous anthrax, and the CDC restricts entry of animal hide drums from Haiti if they have not been processed in
a way that renders them non-infectious. Persons should be aware that untanned animal hide drums from Africa may pose
a similar but low risk for cutaneous anthrax.
May I import animal hides?
Importation of animal products, including processed and unprocessed cattle
and goat hides, is currently regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Cattle or goat hides that have
been tanned, hard-dried, pickled (soaked in a salt solution), or treated with lime are considered to pose less of a risk for
infectious diseases and may be imported under certain conditions. For more information, consult the USDA website at www.aphis.usda.gov and http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ncie/biofacts.html