To systematically review the literature about children with anthrax to describe their clinical course, treatment responses, and the predictors of disease progression and mortality.
MEDLINE® (1966-2005), 14 selected journal indexes (1900-1966) and bibliographies of all retrieved articles.
We sought case reports of pediatric anthrax published between 1900 and 2005 meeting predefined criteria. We abstracted three types of data from the English-language reports:
Patient information (e.g., age, gender, nationality).
Symptom and disease progression information (e.g., whether the patient developed meningitis).
Treatment information (e.g., treatments received, year of treatment).
We compared the clinical symptoms and disease progression variables for the pediatric cases with data on adult anthrax cases reviewed previously.
We identified 246 titles of potentially relevant articles from our MEDLINE® search and 2253 additional references from our manual search of the bibliographies of retrieved articles and the indexes of the 14 selected journals. We included 62 case reports of pediatric anthrax including two inhalational cases, 20 gastrointestinal cases, 37 cutaneous cases, and three atypical cases.
Anthrax is a relatively common and historically well-recognized disease and yet rarely reported among children, suggesting the possibility of significant under-diagnosis, underreporting, and/or publication bias. Children with anthrax present with a wide range of clinical signs and symptoms, which differ somewhat from the presenting features of adults with anthrax. Like adults, children with gastrointestinal anthrax have two distinct clinical presentations:
Upper tract disease characterized by dysphagia and oropharyngeal findings.
Lower tract disease characterized by fever, abdominal pain, and nausea and vomiting.
Additionally, children with inhalational disease may have "atypical" presentations including primary meningoencephalitis. Children with inhalational anthrax have abnormal chest roentgenograms; however, children with other forms of anthrax usually have normal roentgenograms. Nineteen of the 30 children (63%) who received penicillin-based antibiotics survived; whereas nine of 11 children (82%) who received anthrax antiserum survived.
There is a broad spectrum of clinical signs and symptoms associated with pediatric anthrax. The limited data available regarding disease progression and treatment responses for children infected with anthrax suggest some differences from adult populations. Preparedness planning efforts should specifically address the needs of pediatric victims.