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- Patient Comments: Anthrax - Prevention
How is the diagnosis made of anthrax?
The history, including the occupation of the person, is important. The bacteria may be found in cultures or smears in cutaneous (skin) anthrax and in throat swabs and sputum in pulmonary anthrax. Chest X-rays may also show characteristic changes in and between the lungs. Once the anthrax is disseminated, bacteria can be seen in the blood using a microscope. Of course, if anthrax is deliberately spread, the manifestations of the disease may be unusual. Indeed, in the bioterrorism attack in the U.S. in 2001, anthrax spores were spread through the postal system as a white powder mailed with letters.
How is anthrax treated?
In most cases, early treatment can cure anthrax. The cutaneous (skin) form of anthrax can be treated with common antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin, and ciprofloxacin (Cipro). The pulmonary form of anthrax is a medical emergency. Early and continuous intravenous therapy with antibiotics may be lifesaving. In a bioterrorism attack, individuals exposed to anthrax will be given antibiotics before they become sick. A vaccine exists but is not yet available to the general public. Most experts think that the vaccine will also be given to exposed individuals who are victims of a bioterrorist attack. Of note, anthrax is a reportable disease. That means that local or state health agencies must be notified if a case of anthrax is diagnosed. These agencies can better characterize the anthrax so that the affected individual can receive the most effective treatment for that particular organism.