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Keywords:

  • Sepsis;
  • anthrax;
  • lethal factor;
  • oedema factor;
  • disseminated intravascular coagulation;
  • Gram-positive

Abstract

Inhalation anthrax is often described as a toxin-mediated disease. However, the toxaemia model does not account for the high mortality of inhalation anthrax relative to other forms of the disease or for the pathology present in inhalation anthrax. Patients with inhalation anthrax consistently show extreme bacteraemia and, in contrast to animals challenged with toxin, signs of sepsis. Rather than toxaemia, we propose that death in inhalation anthrax results from an overwhelming bacteraemia that leads to severe sepsis. According to our model, the central role of anthrax toxin is to permit the vegetative bacteria to escape immune detection. Other forms of B. anthracis infection have lower mortality because their overt symptoms early in the course of disease cause patients to seek medical care at a time when the infection and its sequelae can still be reversed by antibiotics. Thus, the sepsis model explains key features of inhalation anthrax and may offer a more complete understanding of disease pathology for researchers as well as those involved in the care of patients.