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Antimicrobial Treatment for Systemic Anthrax: Analysis of Cases from 1945–2014 Identified through Systematic Literature Review
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  • Alternative Title:
    Health Secur
  • Description:
    Background Systemic anthrax is associated with high mortality. Current national guidelines, developed for the individualized treatment of systemic anthrax, outline the use of combination intravenous antimicrobials for a minimum of two weeks; bactericidal and protein synthesis inhibitor antimicrobials for all cases of systemic anthrax; and at least 3 antimicrobials with good blood-brain barrier penetration for anthrax meningitis. However, in an anthrax mass casualty incident, large numbers of anthrax cases may create challenges in meeting antimicrobial needs. Methods To further inform our understanding of the role of antimicrobials in treating systemic anthrax, a systematic review of the English language literature was conducted to identify cases of systemic anthrax treated with antimicrobials for which a clinical outcome was recorded. Results A total of 149 cases of systemic anthrax were identified (cutaneous [n=59], gastrointestinal [n=28], inhalation [n=26], primary anthrax meningitis [n=19], multiple routes [n=9], and injection [n=8]). Among the identified 59 cases of cutaneous anthrax, 33 were complicated by meningitis (76% mortality), while 26 simply had evidence of the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (4% mortality); 21 of 26 (81%) of this latter group received monotherapy. Subsequent analysis regarding combination antimicrobial therapy was restricted to the remaining 123 cases of more severe anthrax (overall 67% mortality). Recipients of combination bactericidal and protein synthesis inhibitor therapy had a 45% survival versus 28% in the absence of combination therapy (p = 0.07). For meningitis cases (n=77), survival was greater for those receiving a total of ≥3 antimicrobials over the course of treatment (3 of 4; 75%), compared to receipt of 1 or 2 antimicrobials (12 of 73; 16%) (p = 0.02). Median parenteral antimicrobial duration was 14 days. Conclusion Combination bactericidal and protein synthesis inhibitor therapy may be appropriate in severe anthrax disease, particularly anthrax meningitis, in a mass casualty incident.
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