Anthrax

  • Medical Author:

    Dr. Fishbein received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Illinois. He completed a residency in anatomic and clinical pathology at Harbor General Hospital/UCLA Medical Center. He is board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015

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