A to Z Challenge: X (poisons & stories of their use)


Fast Facts:
– From a bacteria: Bacillus anthracis
– Found naturally in the soil
– Not contagious
– Humans can contract it from infected animals
– Can be vaccinated against it
– About 2,000 cases a year
– Fatality rates depend on method of contraction
– Famous for the 2001 anthrax attacks in the USA

Anthrax is an infection caused by a bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. It’s found naturally in soil around the world and mostly infects animals when they breathe or ingest spores. If people come in contact with an infected animal or contaminated animal product they can become infected when spores get into their system. Like any bacteria they then multiply and spread in the body producing toxins and causing severe illness.

Cutaneous anthrax on forearm. White arrow indicates necrosis and... |  Download Scientific Diagram
Anthrax on forearm
From: ResearchGate

Anthrax can be contracted by breathing in spores, eating contaminated food/water or via a skin cut. It can take a day to over two months before symptoms show. Skin infection shows as a small blister with swelling that becomes an ulcer with a black centre. Stomach form shows as gastroenteritis. Inhalation is the most deadly form, presenting with flue like symptoms (fever, chest pain, shortness of breath) which doesn’t get better and then your respiratory system collapses.

Treatment includes a two-month course of antibiotics, and possibly antitoxin. Most people recover from the skin infection (about 25% fatality rate if no treatment), intestinal infection is around 25% to 75% while inhalation has a death rate of up to 80%, even if treatment is given.

Anthrax has been weaponised by a number of countries, starting when Nordic rebels used anthrax against the Imperial Russian Army in Finland in 1916.

In 2001, starting a week after 9/11, and lasting for several weeks, anthrax contaminated letters were sent to news media outlets and two Democratic senators. Five people were killed and 17 infected. The FBI said the investigation into the letters was “one of the largest and most complex in the history of law enforcement”.

While it was never conclusively determined who conducted the attacks, the FBI closed its investigation in 2010 concluding Bruce Ivins, a scientist in the government’s biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, was responsible. Ivins committed suicide in 2008 after he was declared the sole culprit based on DNA evidence leading to an anthrax vile in his lab. There has been doubt over this evidence, however the FBI have stated there were a combination of factors.

A scientific experiment performed by a high school student, later published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, suggested a domestic electric iron at its hottest setting (at least 400 °F (204 °C)) used for at least 5 minutes should destroy all anthrax spores in a common postal envelope.


16 comments on “A to Z Challenge: X (poisons & stories of their use)

  1. Giggling Fattie

    April 28, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    Oooo I was just watching an episode of Criminal Minds that had anthrax in it and thought to myself it would have been good for you to use it for A!

    I had a penpal from Turkey in 2001 and when the letters started arriving in the USA containing anthrax, I was forbidden to write to them anymore. When their letter arrived (their first since it was a school thing and still only late September/early October) I had to throw it away.

    • Wow, really? Who made you throw it away? Surely it would have been doubtful a student would send anthrax letters to the media and politicians, and then to a random student?

  2. Anthrax is scary to most Americans because of those letters. To me it is scary because those weapon grade variants have ended up in the hands of people who should not be allowed anything more toxic than a crayon.

    The only toxic x I know of is xylidine. The problem with using it as a toxin is that it is used in so many things, from analgesics to organic synthesis. You probably touch something including it every day, but OSHA sets a workplace limit of 2ppm daily.

    • Wow, scarry one too, maybe because it’s not as violent and sudden than others

      • Imagine if you contract it from the environment and don’t get symptoms for weeks? You wouldn’t even know where you picked it up, or probably even consider the cause. That definitely makes it scary.

    • Yeah, I didn’t do xylidine, because it fell more into the “anything can be a poison if you have too much” side of the camp, rather than a straight poison – because of how much it’s used daily. I believe it’s even used in dyes!

  3. Compared to some of the poisons you’ve talked about, this one seems almost tame.

    • It is – as long as you don’t inhale it. Although even inhalation isn’t guaranteed to be fatal. Not the impression you got from the media surrounding the anthrax letters though.

  4. Giggling Fattie

    April 29, 2021 at 7:58 am

    *I* didn’t throw it away lol I was not allowed to open it/reply to it…

  5. Giggling Fattie

    April 29, 2021 at 8:01 am

    The mother of course… LOL

  6. And also a band…
    I remember when the Federal Buildings were all putting in anthrax alarms. Freaky stuff.

    I love letter X posts! Always such variety.
    It’s hard to believe the blogging challenge is almost over for 2021. Then the after survey, reflections, and the road trip sign-up.
    Plus, I’m taking part in the Bout of Books read-a-thon in May. So much excitement!
    J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

    • I also love seeing what people do with X-posts, they’re always challenging!

      April has flown by this year, I’m not quite sure what happened. Thanks for swinging by my blog 🙂

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