Doctors in the United States rarely see a patient with anthrax. CDC guidance and case definitions are available to help doctors diagnose anthrax, take patient histories to determine how exposure may have occurred, and order necessary diagnostic tests.
If inhalation anthrax is suspected, chest X-rays or CT scans can confirm if the patient has mediastinal widening or pleural effusion, which are X-ray findings typically seen in patients with inhalation anthrax.
The only way to confirm a diagnosis of anthrax is to either
- Test directly for Bacillus anthracis in a sample (blood, skin lesion swab, spinal fluid, or respiratory secretions) or
- Measure antibodies or toxin in blood.
Samples must be taken before the patient begins taking antibiotics.