The public health response to
the anthrax epidemic
PHILIP S. BRACHMAN
The earliest writings about anthrax are found in the Book of Genesis: the fifth of ten plagues was from anthrax that affected the Pharaoh's cattle. There are further references to anthrax involving animals and humans in the writings of the Hindus, Greeks, and inhabitants of the Roman Empire. In the 17th century, an epidemic of anthrax called “the black bane” swept through Europe, reportedly killing 60,000 people and many animals. During this period, an association was observed between human disease and contact with wool and animal hides that were used in clothing.
In the mid-1700s, Maret used the term “the malignant pustule” to refer to cutaneous anthrax. In 1838, Delafond described the organism. Louis Pasteur used anthrax in explaining his germ theory. In 1876, Robert Koch referred to Bacillus anthracis in presenting the “Koch postulates,” which form the basis of an association between a microorganism and a disease. Pasteur developed an animal vaccine against anthrax, which was first used in 1881. In 1939, Max Sterne developed an attenuated, non-encapsulated, live strain vaccine, which is the animal vaccine that is still used today. 1
In the 1800s, occupational anthrax was a significant disease in Europe, where it was known as “ragpicker's disease”; in England, it was called “wool-