News reports of anthrax cases in several U.S. cities
may have created fear among both children and adults. CDC prepared this fact sheet to provide parents with information and resources to help their children cope with their fears about anthrax and make decisions related to anthrax and their children.
How To Reduce Children’s Fears
Help your children feel safe. Let them talk about their fears and worries. Stick to family routines that help children feel comfortable and secure. Reassure them that parents, teachers, doctors, and government officials are doing everything possible to keep them safe and healthy.
Limit children’s viewing of television news. Children may be frightened, overwhelmed, or traumatized by news reports about bioterrorism. Supervise what they watch on television, and when they do watch, be sure to allow for family discussion time during and after viewing to let them air their fears and concerns.
Arm yourself with the facts. Education is your
best protection against unnecessary fear. Your
children will be less fearful if they see that you
are not afraid and if you spend time with them
answering all of their questions.
What Every Parent Should Know
Anthrax is an illness caused by bacteria called
Bacillus anthracis. These bacteria are found naturally
in the soil. They can form a protective coating around
themselves called spores and they can release
poisonous substances into the bodies of infected
You and your children cannot catch anthrax from
each other or from any other person. Even if you
were to become sick with anthrax, you could not
pass on the illness to your children.
Also, even if
someone were to put the bacteria that causes anthrax
in your workplace on purpose, it is highly unlikely
that you would carry the bacteria home to your
children on your clothes or hair.
People come into contact with (are "exposed" to)
bacteria or become infected with bacteria that cause
anthrax in three ways:
Being exposed and
infected by breathing in (inhaling) the bacteria
Coming into contact with the bacteria through cuts or
abrasions in the skin
Eating something that
contains the bacteria (usually undercooked meat
from an infected animal)
The chance of coming into
contact with the bacteria in any of these ways is very
low. Also, our bodies have defenses against bacteria,
so not everyone who comes into contact with the
bacteria will become ill with anthrax.
There are three kinds of anthrax, all of which are
treatable with antibiotics:
Skin (cutaneous) anthrax is the least serious form
of anthrax. The first symptom is a small, painless
sore that develops into a blister. One or two days
later, the blister develops a black scab in the
Gastrointestinal anthrax is more serious than
skin anthrax. The initial symptoms are nausea,
loss of appetite and fever, followed by severe
abdominal pain. This is the least common form of anthrax.
Inhalational anthrax is the most serious form of
anthrax. This illness begins with symptoms
similar to those for a cold or the flu. If caught
early, inhalation anthrax can be treated
successfully with antibiotics. If it isn’t caught
early and more serious symptoms develop,
inhalation anthrax usually results in death.
Almost all cold and flu symptoms are not
The signs and symptoms of anthrax infection in
children older than 2 months old are similar to
those in adults. The illness affects children and
adults in much the same way, though children may
be more likely to suffer side effects from some of the
antibiotics used to prevent or treat the disease.
Although you may be tempted to ask your doctor for
a supply of antibiotics to keep on hand, neither the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
nor the American Academy of Pediatrics
recommends doing this.
You should not obtain
antibiotics for your children unless public health
authorities have confirmed that it is likely that your
children have come into contact with the bacteria
that cause anthrax.
Giving your children antibiotics
when the antibiotics are not needed can do more
harm than good. Many antibiotics have serious side
effects in children, and using antibiotics when they
are not needed can lead to the development of drug resistant
forms of bacteria in your children.
happens, the antibiotics will not be able to kill the
resistant bacteria the next time your child needs the
same antibiotic to treat ear, sinus or other infections
that children frequently develop.
Currently, there is no anthrax vaccine for children.
The anthrax vaccine used for adults has never been
studied in children, and it is not recommended for
people younger than 18 years old. It is currently
available only for people in the military service,
although public health officials are now considering
its use for people in other high-risk professions.
The chances of your children coming into contact
with bacteria that cause anthrax are extremely low.
However, if public health officials confirm or suspect
that you or your children have come into contact
with the bacteria, your doctor or other health official
will prescribe antibiotics to keep you and your
children from developing anthrax.
identification and treatment of anthrax in children is
critical, so call your health care provider
immediately with any questions or concerns.
Remember: never give your child an antibiotic
unless a doctor has examined your child and
prescribed an antibiotic. Also, be sure to use any
antibiotic exactly as directed by the doctor or
For More Information
CDC offers information on a wide range of
bioterrorism topics at www.bt.cdc.gov.