Objective: To systematically review all published case reports of children with anthrax to evaluate the predictors of disease progression and mortality.
Data Sources: Fourteen selected journal indexes (1900-1966), MEDLINE (1966-2005), and the bibliographies of all retrieved articles.
Study Selection: Case reports (any language) of anthrax in persons younger than 18 years published between January 1, 1900, and December 31, 2005. Main Exposures Cases with symptoms and culture or Gram stain or autopsy evidence of anthrax infection.
Main Outcome Measures: Disease progression, treatment responses, and mortality.
Results: Of 2499 potentially relevant articles, 73 case reports of pediatric anthrax (5 inhalational cases, 22 gastrointestinal cases, 37 cutaneous cases, 6 cases of primary meningoencephalitis, and 3 atypical cases) met the inclusion criteria. Only 10% of the patients were younger than 2 years, and 24% were girls. Of the few children with inhalational anthrax, none had nonheadache neurologic symptoms, a key finding that distinguishes adult inhalational anthrax from more common illnesses, such as influenza. Overall, observed mortality was 60% (3 of 5) for inhalational anthrax, 65% (13 of 20) for gastrointestinal anthrax, 14% (5 of 37) for cutaneous anthrax, and 100% (6 of 6) for primary meningoencephalitis. Nineteen of the 30 children (63%) who received penicillin-based antibiotics survived, and 9 of the 11 children (82%) who received anthrax antiserum survived.
Conclusions: The clinical presentation of children with anthrax is varied. The mortality rate is high in children with inhalational anthrax, gastrointestinal anthrax, and anthrax meningoencephalitis. Rapid diagnosis and effective treatment of anthrax in children requires recognition of the broad spectrum of clinical presentations of pediatric anthrax.