Letters to the Editor

Differential Diagnosis of Acute Inhalation Anthrax


Am Fam Physician. 2002 May 1;65(9).

to the editor: Unfortunately, in cases such as those outlined in the "Photo Quiz" item entitled "A Widened Mediastinum,"1 acute inhalation anthrax infection must now, unarguably, be added to the differential diagnosis for the cause of acute descending necrotizing mediastinitis.

Drs. Bhargava and Iqbal state that a review of the literature revealed only 69 cases of acute descending necrotizing mediastinitis between 1960 and 1995.2 Just as in necrotizing mediastinitis, a characteristic finding on computed tomographic scan associated with hemorrhagic mediastinitis is symmetric mediastinal widening.3 The clinical presentation of the patient in the “Photo Quiz” was described as initial symptoms of mild upper respiratory tract infection progressing to frank respiratory distress within a timeframe of three to four days—a scenario that is also indicative of acute inhalation anthrax infection.4,5

As I write this letter, I have just learned that two postal workers in Washington, D.C., have died of acute inhalation anthrax.


show all references

1. Bhargava A, Iqbal Z. A widened mediastinum. [Photo Quiz] Am Fam Physician 2001;64:1237-8. ...

2. Corsten MJ, Shamji FM, Odell PF, Frederico JA, Laframboise GG, Reid KR, et al. Optimal treatment of descending necrotising mediastinitis. Thorax 1997;52:702-8.

3. Knudson GB. Treatment of anthrax in man: history and current concepts. Mil Med 1986;151:71-7.

4. Arnold Kaufman, MD, Acting Chief of Mycotic Diseases, CDC, Atlanta as a quote from Medical Tribune, Feb 7, 1991, “How Biochemical Weapons Work.”

5. Brachman PS. Inhalation anthrax. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1980;353:83-93.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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