Anthrax surgery

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Anthrax Surgery

Surgery for cutaneous anthrax can lead to dissemination and poor outcome. Surgery is contraindicated for acute disease, with the exception of tracheotomy for airway obstruction and surgical intervention for large or circumferential extremity lesions causing compartment syndrome.

Surgery may be indicated for gastrointestinal anthrax to identify and address potentially fatal complications, such as bowel ischemia, necrosis, and perforation.[1]

For injection anthrax, surgery is used to obtain diagnostic specimens to differentiate the infection from necrotizing fasciitis and to remove the necrotic nidus of infection, which may be a toxin and spore reservoir. Surgery for injection anthrax should be more limited than that for necrotizing fasciitis, and resection should be performed only to healthy tissue. Compression of soft tissues can be released by incision, excision, or fasciotomy and might be required for treatment of compartment syndrome.[2]


Drainage of pleural fluid and ascites is believed to improve survival by reducing the toxin level and by decreasing mechanical lung compression. These data support the need for early and aggressive drainage of any clinically or radiographically apparent pleural effusions; chest tube drainage is recommended over thoracentesis because many effusions will require prolonged drainage. [3]

Thoracotomy or video-assisted thoracic surgery might be required to remove gelatinous or loculated collections. Ascites should also be drained and monitored for reaccumulation.[3]


  1. Binkley CE, Cinti S, Simeone DM, Colletti LM (2002). "Bacillus anthracis as an agent of bioterrorism: a review emphasizing surgical treatment". Ann Surg. 236 (1): 9–16. PMC 1422543. PMID 12131080.
  2. Knox D, Murray G, Millar M, Hamilton D, Connor M, Ferdinand RD; et al. (2011). "Subcutaneous anthrax in three intravenous drug users: a new clinical diagnosis". J Bone Joint Surg Br. 93 (3): 414–7. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.93B3.25976. PMID 21357967.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Expert Panel Meetings on Prevention and Treatment of Anthrax in Adults".