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Gupta: Skin anthrax less dangerous


(CNN) A New York employee of NBC's "Nightly News" is being treated with antibiotics for cutaneous (skin) anthrax after receiving mail that contained a suspicious white powder. The victim, a woman who is not being identified by name, is expected to recover.

A week ago, an employee of a Florida tabloid newspaper died after suffering an inhaled form of the disease.

CNN anchor Aaron Brown spoke Friday with CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the differences in the types of anthrax infection.

BROWN: We talked about two ways (anthrax) enters the body the Florida cases were inhalation, more dangerous. The case in New York comes through the skin, as far as we know. Discuss that for a bit -- why is one is more dangerous?

GUPTA: There have been three exposures total in Florida -- one of them progressed into an infection. And now we have an exposure that progressed to a cutaneous infection in New York. They're the same bacteria. Anthrax is anthrax. But the way it gets into your body is important.

If it gets in through your skin, the most common way, it's less dangerous. It takes a long time to get from your skin to anywhere else in your body where it may wreak havoc. If it gets into your lungs, it's much quicker. If it gets all the way to the base of your lungs, into your bloodstream, into the fluid surrounding your brain, it can wreak a lot of havoc much more quickly. It's a lot harder to treat. If you inhale it, it's a lot more dangerous.

BROWN: And that's the case of Robert Stevens, the 63-year-old employee of American Media who inhaled (anthrax spores) and he died from that. And he died, as I recall, just a day or two after he was taken to the hospital, while in this case in New York, which is a skin case, she is being treated. We're told she's doing OK. Anything you want to add? You're the doctor.

GUPTA: Cutaneous anthrax is something that we do know somewhat more about than inhaled. We've seen some cases. In fact we have a picture of cutaneous anthrax. And what we see is a little bit late stage of the progression of the infection. It just usually starts as a mosquito bite thing, progresses to some bumps and swelling, and what you're seeing here is actually some of the infection in the lymph glands. The lymph glands are responsible for your ability to fight off infection. And that's part of the reason anthrax can be dangerous.

Again, I want to reinforce that when it does go through the skin like this, even in this situation, as bad as this looks, it's still very treatable. And cutaneous anthrax is very treatable all along.


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