Be Tough To Distinguish Between Symptoms of Anthrax and That from the Flu and Other Viruses
Experts say that doctors will be faced with a tough task this flu season to determine when a patient complains of a flu like symptoms to determine whether it is from flu virus or from anthrax bacterial exposure. The answer is critical. If the patient has contracted flu, there is really no treatment. Giving antibiotics is not going to help in flu symptoms.
However, if it is from anthrax exposure, time will be of essence. Antibiotic treatment should be started immediately,
for any realistic chance of saving the patient. Given the seriousness of the consequences for a misdiagnosis, it is quite possible that doctors will play it safe and give most of their patients antibiotics.
Is there really a fool-proof way to distinguish between flu and anthrax? The answer is, there is no easy way to tell, at least not in the early stages, when anthrax is most likely to respond to treatment.
The first signs of inhaled anthrax are cough, headache, fever and a general sense of feeling lousy. However, these are precisely the same symptoms of flu and a long list of other viruses that cause respiratory infections in the wintertime.
The headache may be worse and the overall symptoms more severe with the start of anthrax, but there is no clear way to tell the difference. Doctors can order a culture -- an attempt to grow the anthrax bacteria from a blood sample -- but this takes a day or two.
And the bacteria may fail to grow in the early days of an infection.
They also might request a white cell count. The count is likely to be high if anthrax or other bacteria is the cause of the symptoms; the white count would be normal or low if a virus, such as the flu bug, is responsible. But this also is not definitive.
A chest X-ray may reveal a shadow in the central part of the chest if victims have inhaled anthrax, but this sign also may not appear until the later stages of infection.
While antibiotics can cure anthrax if taken soon enough, they do nothing for the influenza virus or the other viruses that cause most of the respiratory ills that can mimic early stage anthrax.
In view of the fact that experts are now saying that incidental contact with few spores of anthrax can be serious, it appears that to err on the side of caution may be well justified. Doctors may as well treat first and ask questions later.
See Also: There
May Not Be "A Safe Dose for Anthrax Exposure"
Source: Daniel Q. Haney, Associated Press