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anthrax vaccine

Pronunciation: ANTH rax vax EEN

Brand: Biothrax

What is the most important information I should know about anthrax vaccine?

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You should not receive this vaccine if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to an anthrax vaccine, or if you have ever had anthrax disease acquired through the skin.

Before receiving this vaccine, tell the doctor if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine, or if you have a weak immune system, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, if you are allergic to latex rubber, if you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation, or if you have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

You can still receive a vaccine if you have a cold or mild fever. In the case of a more severe illness with a high fever or any type of infection, wait until you get better before receiving this vaccine.

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Before receiving anthrax vaccine, tell the doctor about all other vaccines you have recently received. Also tell the doctor if you have recently received drugs or treatments that can weaken the immune system, such as steroids, psoriasis or arthritis medications, medicines to treat or prevent organ transplant rejection, or chemotherapy or radiation treatments. You may not be able to receive the anthrax vaccine, or may need to wait until the other treatments are finished.

Becoming infected with anthrax is much more dangerous to your health than receiving the vaccine to protect against it. Like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects, but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

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Anthrax vaccine will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body.

What is anthrax vaccine?

Anthrax is a disease caused by infection with a spore-forming bacteria. It usually occurs in animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, deer, antelope, and other herbivores. Anthrax can also occur in people who are exposed to an infected animal or other source of the anthrax bacteria.

Anthrax is spread to a human through the skin, the stomach, or the lungs. The bacteria can enter the skin through a cut or wound that comes into contact with products from an infected animal (such as meat, wool, hide, or hair). Infection can also occur through the lungs when a person inhales the bacterial spore, or through the stomach when a person eats undercooked meat from an infected animal.

Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions lacking in good veterinary prevention programs, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Carribean, the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. Although less common, anthrax does occur in the United States each year among both wild game animals and domestic livestock.

Anthrax is a serious disease that can spread quickly throughout the body and it is fatal in a high number of cases, especially when acquired through the lungs.

The anthrax vaccine is used to help prevent this disease in people exposed to the bacteria through the skin or lungs. This vaccine works by exposing you to an antigen protein that causes your body to develop immunity to the disease. Anthrax vaccine does not contain live or killed forms of the bacteria that causes anthrax.

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Anthrax vaccine will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body.

Like any vaccine, the anthrax vaccine may not provide protection from disease in every person.

What should I discuss with my health care provider before receiving anthrax vaccine?

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You should not receive this vaccine if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to an anthrax vaccine, or if you have ever had anthrax disease acquired through the skin.

Before receiving this vaccine, tell the doctor if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any type of vaccine, or if you have:

  • an allergy to latex rubber;
  • a weak immune system caused by disease (such as cancer, HIV, or AIDS), or by taking certain medicines;
  • a history of infection with anthrax;
  • a history of Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome;
  • if you are pregnant or breast-feeding; or
  • if you have received cancer chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or steroid medications in the past 3 months.

You can still receive a vaccine if you have a cold or mild fever. In the case of a more severe illness with a high fever or any type of infection, wait until you get better before receiving this vaccine.

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Vaccines generally should not be given to a pregnant woman. However, not vaccinating the mother could be more harmful to the baby if the mother becomes infected with a disease that this vaccine could prevent. Your doctor will decide whether you should receive this vaccine, especially if you have a high risk of infection with anthrax.

How is anthrax vaccine given?

This vaccine is given as an injection (shot) under the skin. You will receive this injection in a doctor's office or other clinic setting.

Anthrax vaccine is recommended for adults in the following situations:

  • people who handle anthrax bacteria in a laboratory or other work setting;
  • people who handle animal hides or furs imported from areas where anthrax is common;
  • people who handle meat or other animal products in areas where anthrax is common;
  • veterinarians who travel to countries where anthrax is common; and
  • military personnel at risk of exposure through potential biological warfare when anthrax may be used as a weapon.

The anthrax vaccine is given in a series of 6 shots. The first 3 shots are given 2 weeks apart. The following three 3 shots are given 6, 12, and 18 months after the first shot. An annual booster shot is then recommended every year during possible exposure to anthrax. Your individual booster schedule may be different from these guidelines. Follow your doctor's instructions or the schedule recommended by the health department of the state where you live.

You may receive anthrax vaccine at the same time as other vaccines.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Contact your doctor if you will miss a booster dose or if you get behind schedule. The next dose should be given as soon as possible. There is no need to start over.

Be sure you receive all recommended doses of this vaccine. If you do not receive the full series of vaccines, you may not be fully protected against the disease.

What happens if I overdose?

An overdose of this vaccine is unlikely to occur.

What should I avoid before or after receiving anthrax vaccine?

Follow your doctor's instructions about any restrictions on food, beverages, or activity after you receive this vaccine.

What are the possible side effects of anthrax vaccine?

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You should not receive a booster vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first shot.

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Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving this vaccine. When you receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous shots caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with anthrax is much more dangerous to your health than receiving the vaccine to protect against it. Like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects, but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

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Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor at once if you have a serious side effect (some are rare but serious) such as:

  • severe swelling or a hard lump where the shot was given;
  • severe swelling spreading to other parts of your arm;
  • fever, chills, body aches, nausea, flu symptoms;
  • pale skin, easy bruising or bleeding;
  • confusion, changes in mood or behavior;
  • seizure (convulsions);
  • blistering, redness, and swelling or warmth of the skin;
  • weakness, numbness or tingly feeling in your feet spreading upward;
  • problems with vision, hearing, speech, swallowing, or bladder and bowel functions;
  • severe lower back pain; or
  • slow heart rate, trouble breathing, weak pulse, or feeling like you might pass out.

Less serious side effects include:

  • mild redness, warmth, itching, or tenderness where the shot was given;
  • low fever;
  • feeling tired or weak;
  • headache, dizziness;
  • mild pain or stiffness in the injected arm;
  • joint or muscle pain;
  • swelling in your hands or feet; or
  • mild skin rash.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Tell your doctor about any unusual or bothersome side effect. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

What other drugs will affect anthrax vaccine?

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Before receiving this vaccine, tell the doctor about all other vaccines you have recently received.

Also tell the doctor if you have recently received drugs or treatments that can weaken the immune system, including:

  • an oral, nasal, inhaled, or injectable steroid medicine;
  • medications to treat psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune disorders, such as azathioprine (Imuran), efalizumab (Raptiva), etanercept (Enbrel), leflunomide (Arava), and others; or
  • medicines to treat or prevent organ transplant rejection, such as basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral, Gengraf), muromonab-CD3 (Orthoclone), mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept), sirolimus (Rapamune), or tacrolimus (Prograf).

If you are using any of these medications, you may not be able to receive the vaccine, or may need to wait until the other treatments are finished.

There may be other drugs that can affect the anthrax vaccine. Tell your doctor about all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you have received. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and drugs prescribed by other doctors. While you are receiving the anthrax vaccine series, do not start using a new medication without telling your doctor.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor or pharmacist may have information about this vaccine written for health professionals that you may read. You may also find additional information from your local health department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

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