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Anthrax - blood test

Definition

The anthrax blood test looks for antibodies against B. anthracis, the bacteria that cause anthrax.

Alternative Names

Anthrax serology test; Antibody test for anthrax; Serologic test for B. anthracis

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see: Venipuncture

The blood sample is sent to a lab where serology tests are done to look for the bacteria that cause anthrax.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no special preparation.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain, or only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the Test is Performed

This test may be performed when anthrax is suspected.

Normal Results

A normal result means no antibodies to the anthrax bacteria was seen in your blood sample. However, during the early stages of infection, your body may only produce a few antibodies, which the blood test may miss. The test may need to be repeated in 10 days - 2 weeks.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal result means antibodies to B. anthracis have been detected and you may have anthrax disease. However, some people come in contact with the bacteria and do not develop the disease.

To determine if you have a current infection, your health care provider will look for an increase in the antibody count after a few weeks.

Risks

There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Considerations

The best test for diagnosing anthrax is a culture of affected tissue or blood.

References

Martin GJ, Friedlander AM. Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 208.


Review Date: 9/1/2013
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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