What Are the Different Types of Anthrax Treatment?

A. Pasbjerg

Treatment of anthrax, which is caused by infection with the Bacillus anthracis bacterium, is typically done with antibiotics. There are many types that can be used, and choosing the right one often depends on the type of anthrax infection being treated and the patient. The medication may be given orally or intravenously, again depending on the type of infection and also on how far it has progressed. Supportive care may also be a necessary part of anthrax treatment if symptoms like edema or respiratory distress are present.

A patient may be given intravenous antibiotics to treat anthrax poisoning.
A patient may be given intravenous antibiotics to treat anthrax poisoning.

Cutaneous anthrax, where the infection only attacks the skin, is typically the easiest type of anthrax to treat, and the form that patients are most likely to recover from. Unless there is an indication that the infection has spread throughout the body, patients are typically given only oral antibiotics. The preferred antibiotics for cutaneous anthrax treatment are ciprofloxacin or doxycycline; they may even be used for children or pregnant women even though there are certain risks to these populations from these drugs, as the benefits may outweigh the risks. If it is found that the type of anthrax being treated is susceptible to penicillins like amoxicillin or ampicillin, these types of patients may be better off taking those drugs.

Inhalation or gastrointestinal anthrax, where the bacteria is inhaled or ingested, are much more serious forms of the disease and often require intravenous administration of antibiotics. In many cases, multiple antibiotics are used to try and more effectively kill the bacteria. Both inhalation and gastrointestinal anthrax treatment often start with ciprofloxacin or doxycycline via IV, followed by oral administration of medications like penicillin, clarithromycin, or chloramphenicol. Other antibiotics that sometimes work include tetracycline, erythromycin, and levofloxacin. If the drugs are not given relatively quickly after infection, the chances of successful treatment are slim and the illness may be fatal.

In addition to trying to kill the Bacillus anthracis bacterium, supportive care is also an important part of anthrax treatment, as many of the symptoms of infection can be uncomfortable or even dangerous and need to be addressed while the antibiotics work. Some patients may have fluid retention, or edema, which can be treated with corticosteroids; tubes may also become necessary for drainage if the fluid is in the chest. Those with the inhalation form of anthrax may have difficulty breathing and need assistance. Patients may also be susceptible to meningitis and need to be treated it if it develops.

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