Time Crucial in Anthrax Cases

Infection becomes untreatable within just a few days, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 22, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Speed is key to saving the lives of people infected with anthrax, a new U.S. study concludes.

Researchers at Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University School of Medicine examined 82 cases of confirmed inhalation anthrax in 15 countries -- the most comprehensive review of anthrax cases ever conducted.

They found that once anthrax progresses to an advanced stage -- typically four days after the first symptoms -- it's almost always fatal, even if patients receive the best possible medical care.

The study appears in the Feb. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The findings emphasize the need to detect anthrax at an early stage, to educate medical personnel about its symptoms and treatment, and to establish a distribution system that ensures that antibiotics can be delivered to patients within hours of a bioterrorist attack with anthrax, the team said.

"Even with our modern intensive care, once you're reached the advanced stage of this disease, you're probably going to die. That's why it's crucial to start antibiotics within the first few days," study author Dr. Jon-Erik Holty, a fellow in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Stanford, said in a prepared statement.

He noted that anthrax can be difficult to diagnose. In its early stages, its symptoms mimic the flu. Even in the later stages of anthrax, there is no quick, definitive test for the disease.

In light of this, Holty said, "doctors need to ask questions and notice patterns: Are a lot of patients getting flu symptoms in the summer? Is there a group of patients with these symptoms who were all in the same place?"

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about anthrax.

SOURCE: Stanford University Medical Center, news release, Feb. 20, 2006

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