Bacillus Anthracis as an Agent of Bioterrorism: A Review Emphasizing Surgical Treatment

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ObjectiveTo familiarize surgeons with the specific complications of cutaneous, gastrointestinal, inhalation, and systemic infection with Bacillus Anthracis, which may require surgical treatment.Summary Background DataThe recent cases of intentional exposure to Bacillus Anthracis in the United States make familiarity with the basic microbiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatment, and control of this disease essential if mortality and morbidity is to be minimized, particularly following mass exposure. Although the treatment of Bacillus Anthracis infection is primarily medical, there are specific surgical complications with which the surgeon should be familiar.MethodsA review of the literature was undertaken, utilizing electronic databases on infection with Bacillus Anthracis, as well as consultation with experts in this field. Emphasis was placed on the diagnosis and treatment of complications of infection that might require surgical intervention.ResultsCutaneous anthrax infection results in eschar formation and massive soft tissue edema. When involving the extremities, increased compartment pressure requiring fasciotomy may result. Primary infection of the gastrointestinal tract may result in oropharyngeal edema and respiratory compromise requiring a surgical airway. Direct involvement of the lower gastrointestinal tract can result in intestinal ulceration, necrosis, bleeding, and perforation, which would require surgical exploration and resection of affected segments. Systemic sepsis, most often associated with inhalation anthrax, can cause massive ascites, electrolyte derangements, and profound shock requiring aggressive fluid resuscitation and careful hemodynamic monitoring and respiratory support. Systemic anthrax infection can also lead to gastrointestinal involvement by hematogenous dissemination, resulting in complications and requiring surgical management similar to direct gastrointestinal infection.ConclusionsCutaneous, gastrointestinal, inhalation and systemic infection with Bacillus Anthracis can result in complications which would require familiarity with the pathogenesis and manifestations of this disease in order to recognize and treat promptly and successfully by surgical intervention.

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