The post September 11th anthrax attacks demonstrated just how vulnerable we are to biologic attack. In the first days of the attack, there was confusion and miscommunication. Patients presented to emergency rooms and to their primary care physicians with severe pneumonia. Days passed and a person died before the cause of pneumonia was recognized as Bacillus anthracis. In a biologic attack, the prompt recognition of the biologic agent is key to the outcome for both individual patients and potentially even our society. The three category A bacterial agents, anthrax, tularemia, and plague, can all present as a necrotizing pneumonia. If an attack occurred during flu season when there is already an increase in pneumonia, most physicians will initially have a great deal of difficulty determining that these cases are different. Yet, considering the nature of the world today every physician must be suspicious that the next pneumonia he or she sees could be the index case of anthrax, tularemia, or plague. The challenge for the clinician evaluating a patient presenting with the presumptive diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia is differentiating between the various possible etiologies that can cause this clinical picture. Each of these three class A agents has it own microbiologic and clinical characteristics. They are discussed here.
Document Type: Review Article
Publication date: May 1, 2005
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