Biological agents as weapons 2: anthrax and plague

Michael Whitby, Tilman A Ruff, Alan C Street and Frank Fenner
Med J Aust 2002; 176 (12): 605-608.


  • Although most naturally occurring infections with anthrax and plague are cutaneous, both organisms are most likely to be deliberately disseminated in aerosolised form, resulting in severe pulmonary illness.

  • Mortality from both would be high and rapid in the absence of early and effective treatment, making swift and effective liaison between alert clinicians and public health authorities crucial to an effective response.

  • Differentiating features include mediastinal widening (anthrax) and haemoptysis (plague).

  • Doxycycline and ciprofloxacin are effective agents for prophylaxis and treatment for both diseases.

  • Medical advocacy for strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention, particularly with an enforceable protocol including verification and compliance provisions, is needed.

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  • Michael Whitby1
  • Tilman A Ruff2
  • Alan C Street3
  • Frank Fenner4

  • 1 Infection Management Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 2 GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 3 Victorian Infectious Diseases Service, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 4 John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.


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