On November 20, 2001, inhalational anthrax was confirmed in an elderly woman from rural Connecticut. To determine her exposure source, we conducted an extensive epidemiologic, environmental, and laboratory investigation. Molecular subtyping showed that her isolate was indistinguishable from isolates associated with intentionally contaminated letters. No samples from her home or community yielded Bacillus anthracis, and she received no first-class letters from facilities known to have processed intentionally contaminated letters. Environmental sampling in the regional Connecticut postal facility yielded B. anthracis spores from 4 (31%) of 13 sorting machines. One extensively contaminated machine primarily processes bulk mail. A second machine that does final sorting of bulk mail for her zip code yielded B. anthracis on the column of bins for her carrier route. The evidence suggests she was exposed through a cross-contaminated bulk mail letter. Such cross-contamination of letters and postal facilities has implications for managing the response to future B. anthracis–contaminated mailings.
Bacillus anthracis; inhalational anthrax; bioterrorism; postal facilities; research
In October 2001, four cases of inhalational anthrax occurred in workers in a Washington, D.C., mail facility that processed envelopes containing Bacillus anthracis spores. We reviewed the envelopes’ paths and obtained exposure histories and nasal swab cultures from postal workers. Environmental sampling was performed. A sample of employees was assessed for antibody concentrations to B. anthracis protective antigen. Case-patients worked on nonoverlapping shifts throughout the facility. Environmental sampling showed diffuse contamination of the facility, suggesting multiple aerosolization events. Potential workplace exposures were similar for the case-patients and the sample of workers. All nasal swab cultures and serum antibody tests were negative. Available tools could not identify subgroups of employees at higher risk for exposure or disease. Prophylaxis was necessary for all employees. To protect postal workers against bioterrorism, measures to reduce the risk of occupational exposure are necessary.
bioterrorism; Bacillus anthracis; postal facility; inhalational anthrax
At least four Bacillus anthracis–containing envelopes destined for New York City and Washington, D.C., were processed at the Trenton Processing and Distribution Center (PDC) on September 18 and October 9, 2001. When cutaneous anthrax was confirmed in a Trenton postal worker, the PDC was closed. Four cutaneous and two inhalational anthrax cases were identified. Five patients were hospitalized; none died. Four were PDC employees; the others handled or received mail processed there. Onset dates occurred in two clusters following envelope processing at the PDC. The attack rate among the 170 employees present when the B. anthracis–containing letters were sorted on October 9 was 1.2%. Of 137 PDC environmental samples, 57 (42%) were positive. Five (10%) of 50 local post offices each yielded one positive sample. Cutaneous or inhalational anthrax developed in four postal employees at a facility where B. anthracis–containing letters were processed. Cross-contaminated mail or equipment was the likely source of infection in two other case-patients with cutaneous anthrax.
Bacillus anthracis; anthrax; bioterrorism
On November 11, 2001, following the bioterrorism-related anthrax attacks, the U.S. Postal Service collected samples at the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center; all samples were negative for Bacillus anthracis. After a patient in Connecticut died from inhalational anthrax on November 19, the center was sampled again on November 21 and 25 by using dry and wet swabs. All samples were again negative for B. anthracis. On November 28, guided by information from epidemiologic investigation, we sampled the site extensively with wet wipes and surface vacuum sock samples (using HEPA vacuum). Of 212 samples, 6 (3%) were positive, including one from a highly contaminated sorter. Subsequently B. anthracis was also detected in mail-sorting bins used for the patient’s carrier route. These results suggest cross-contaminated mail as a possible source of anthrax for the inhalational anthrax patient in Connecticut. In future such investigations, extensive sampling guided by epidemiologic data is imperative.
Bacillus anthracis; anthrax; environmental sampling; postal facility; surface sampling; HEPA vacuum sock; swabs; wipes
The lack of identified exposures in 2 of the 11 cases of bioterrorism-related inhalation anthrax in 2001 raised uncertainty about the infectious dose and transmission of Bacillus anthracis. We used the Wells-Riley mathematical model of airborne infection to estimate 1) the exposure concentrations in postal facilities where cases of inhalation anthrax occurred and 2) the risk for infection in various hypothetical scenarios of exposure to B. anthracis aerosolized from contaminated mail in residential settings. These models suggest that a small number of cases of inhalation anthrax can be expected when large numbers of persons are exposed to low concentrations of B. anthracis. The risk for inhalation anthrax is determined not only by bacillary virulence factors but also by infectious aerosol production and removal rates and by host factors.
Anthrax; Air microbiology; Infection; Risk; Inhalation exposure; Lethal Dose 50; Ventilation
The discovery of a letter intentionally filled with dried Bacillus anthracis spores in the office of a United States senator prompted the collection and quarantine of all mail in congressional buildings. This mail was subsequently searched for additional intentionally contaminated letters. A microbiological sampling strategy was used to locate heavy contamination within the 642 separate plastic bags containing the mail. Swab sampling identified 20 bags for manual and visual examination. Air sampling within the 20 bags indicated that one bag was orders of magnitude more contaminated than all the others. This bag contained a letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy that had been loaded with dried B. anthracis spores. Microbiological sampling of compartmentalized batches of mail proved to be efficient and relatively safe. Efficiency was increased by inoculating culture media in the hot zone rather than transferring swab samples to a laboratory for inoculation. All mail sampling was complete within 4 days with minimal contamination of the sampling environment or personnel. However, physically handling the intentionally contaminated letter proved to be exceptionally hazardous, as did sorting of cross-contaminated mail, which resulted in generation of hazardous aerosol and extensive contamination of protective clothing. Nearly 8 × 106 CFU was removed from the most highly cross-contaminated piece of mail found. Tracking data indicated that this and other heavily contaminated envelopes had been processed through the same mail sorting equipment as, and within 1 s of, two intentionally contaminated letters.
In October 2001, the first inhalational anthrax case in the United States since 1976 was identified in a media company worker in Florida. A national investigation was initiated to identify additional cases and determine possible exposures to Bacillus anthracis. Surveillance was enhanced through health-care facilities, laboratories, and other means to identify cases, which were defined as clinically compatible illness with laboratory-confirmed B. anthracis infection. From October 4 to November 20, 2001, 22 cases of anthrax (11 inhalational, 11 cutaneous) were identified; 5 of the inhalational cases were fatal. Twenty (91%) case-patients were either mail handlers or were exposed to worksites where contaminated mail was processed or received. B. anthracis isolates from four powder-containing envelopes, 17 specimens from patients, and 106 environmental samples were indistinguishable by molecular subtyping. Illness and death occurred not only at targeted worksites, but also along the path of mail and in other settings. Continued vigilance for cases is needed among health-care providers and members of the public health and law enforcement communities.
Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is known for its rapid proliferation and dissemination in mammalian hosts. In contrast, little information exists regarding the lifestyle of this important pathogen outside of the host. Considering that Bacillus species, including close relatives of B. anthracis, are saprophytic soil organisms, we investigated the capacity of B. anthracis spores to germinate in the rhizosphere and to establish populations of vegetative cells that could support horizontal gene transfer in the soil. Using a simple grass plant-soil model system, we show that B. anthracis strains germinate on and around roots, growing in characteristic long filaments. From 2 to 4 days postinoculation, approximately one-half of the B. anthracis CFU recovered from soil containing grass seedlings arose from heat-sensitive organisms, while B. anthracis CFU retrieved from soil without plants consisted of primarily heat-resistant spores. Coinoculation of the plant-soil system with spores of a fertile B. anthracis strain carrying the tetracycline resistance plasmid pBC16 and a selectable B. anthracis recipient strain resulted in transfer of pBC16 from the donor to the recipient as early as 3 days postinoculation. Our findings demonstrate that B. anthracis can survive as a saprophyte outside of the host. The data suggest that horizontal gene transfer in the rhizosphere of grass plants may play a role in the evolution of the Bacillus cereus group species.
On October 4, 2001, we confirmed the first bioterrorism-related anthrax case identified in the United States in a resident of Palm Beach County, Florida. Epidemiologic investigation indicated that exposure occurred at the workplace through intentionally contaminated mail. One additional case of inhalational anthrax was identified from the index patient’s workplace. Among 1,076 nasal cultures performed to assess exposure, Bacillus anthracis was isolated from a co-worker later confirmed as being infected, as well as from an asymptomatic mail-handler in the same workplace. Environmental cultures for B. anthracis showed contamination at the workplace and six county postal facilities. Environmental and nasal swab cultures were useful epidemiologic tools that helped direct the investigation towards the infection source and transmission vehicle. We identified 1,114 persons at risk and offered antimicrobial prophylaxis.
Anthrax; Bacillus anthracis; bioterrorism; nasal swab cultures; environmental cultures
Bacillus anthracis causes three forms of anthrax: inhalational, gastrointestinal, and cutaneous. Anthrax is characterized by both toxemia, which is caused by secretion of immunomodulating toxins (lethal toxin and edema toxin), and septicemia, which is associated with bacterial encapsulation. Here we report that, contrary to the current view of B. anthracis pathogenesis, B. anthracis spores germinate and establish infections at the initial site of inoculation in both inhalational and cutaneous infections without needing to be transported to draining lymph nodes, and that inhaled spores establish initial infection in nasal-associated lymphoid tissues. Furthermore, we found that Peyer's patches in the mouse intestine are the primary site of bacterial growth after intragastric inoculation, thus establishing an animal model of gastrointestinal anthrax. All routes of infection progressed to the draining lymph nodes, spleen, lungs, and ultimately the blood. These discoveries were made possible through the development of a novel dynamic mouse model of B. anthracis infection using bioluminescent non-toxinogenic capsulated bacteria that can be visualized within the mouse in real-time, and demonstrate the value of in vivo imaging in the analysis of B. anthracis infection. Our data imply that previously unrecognized portals of bacterial entry demand more intensive investigation, and will significantly transform the current perception of inhalational, gastrointestinal, and cutaneous B. anthracis pathogenesis.
Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterial pathogen that forms spores, dormant bacteria that are highly resistant to destruction. Infections initiate from the introduction of spores into airways or damaged skin, or from the consumption of contaminated food. Within the host, spores germinate, then bacteria secrete toxins that cripple the immune response and sheath themselves in a capsule that prevents them from being phagocytosed. We strove to determine in real space and time where and when spores introduced by these three routes of infection germinate and how bacteria subsequently disseminate in a mouse model. This was achieved through the development of light-emitting B. anthracis that could be tracked inside a living mouse. Contrary to current models, our studies indicated that spores germinated in situ in the skin, the intestines, and the nasal passages without needing to be transported to lymph nodes. Furthermore, bacteria disseminate from initial sites of infection in a similar fashion, first to the draining lymph nodes, then the spleen, and finally the lungs and blood. These findings imply that spore interactions with local sites of entry are critical in the development of systemic disease and that disruption of these interactions may offer new methods of anthrax prevention.
In October 2001, two envelopes containing Bacillus anthracis spores were processed at the Washington, D.C., Processing and Distribution Center of the U.S. Postal Service; inhalational anthrax developed in four workers at this facility. More than 2,000 workers were advised to complete 60 days of postexposure prophylaxis to prevent inhalational anthrax. Interventions to promote adherence were carried out to support workers, and qualitative information was collected to evaluate our interventions. A quantitative survey was administered to a convenience sample of workers to assess factors influencing adherence. No anthrax infections developed in any workers involved in the interventions or interviews. Of 245 workers, 98 (40%) reported full adherence to prophylaxis, and 45 (18%) had completely discontinued it. Experiencing adverse effects to prophylaxis, anxiety, and being <45 years old were risk factors for discontinuing prophylaxis. Interventions, especially frequent visits by public health staff, proved effective in supporting adherence.
adherence; Bacillus anthracis; bioterrorism; antimicrobial prophylaxis; compliance
After inhalational anthrax was diagnosed in a Connecticut woman on November 20, 2001, postexposure prophylaxis was recommended for postal workers at the regional mail facility serving the patient’s area. Although environmental testing at the facility yielded negative results, subsequent testing confirmed the presence of Bacillus anthracis. We distributed questionnaires to 100 randomly selected postal workers within 20 days of initial prophylaxis. Ninety-four workers obtained antibiotics, 68 of whom started postexposure prophylaxis and 21 discontinued. Postal workers who stopped or never started taking prophylaxis cited as reasons disbelief regarding anthrax exposure, problems with adverse events, and initial reports of negative cultures. Postal workers with adverse events reported predominant symptoms of gastrointestinal distress and headache. The influence of these concerns on adherence suggests that communication about risks of acquiring anthrax, education about adverse events, and careful management of adverse events are essential elements in increasing adherence.
Anthrax; Bacillus anthracis; prophylaxis; adverse effects; ciprofloxacin; doxycycline; patient noncompliance; Connecticut
Bacillus anthracis spores cause natural infections and are used as biological weapons. Inhalation infection with B. anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, is almost always lethal, yet cutaneous infections usually remain localized and resolve spontaneously. Neutrophils are typically recruited to cutaneous but seldom to other forms of anthrax infections, raising the possibility that neutrophils kill B. anthracis. In this study we infected human neutrophils with either spores or vegetative bacteria of a wild-type strain, or strains, expressing only one of the two major virulence factors. The human neutrophils engulfed B. anthracis spores, which germinated intracellularly and were then efficiently killed. Interestingly, neutrophil killing was independent of reactive oxygen species production. We fractionated a human neutrophil granule extract by high-performance liquid chromatography and identified α-defensins as the component responsible for B. anthracis killing. These data suggest that the timely recruitment of neutrophils can control cutaneous infections and possibly other forms of B. anthracis infections, and that α-defensins play an important role in the potent anti-B. anthracis activity of neutrophils.
Bacillus anthracis is the bacterium that causes anthrax, a disease that can occur through natural infections and also through intentional release. B. anthracis makes spores, which are in a dormant state, similar to seeds of a plant, and are extremely resistant to the environment. B. anthracis spores can infect through the skin or the lung. Lung infections disseminate through the body and are lethal. In contrast, skin infections often remain localized, and patients survive even without treatment. It is not well understood why these bacteria cause a localized infection through the skin and a lethal disease through the lung.
Little is known about how B. anthracis is controlled. Neutrophils are the first white blood cells recruited to a site of infection and are specialized in killing microbes. Previous studies show that neutrophils are abundant in the skin form, but not in the lung form of anthrax. The researchers report that human neutrophils can take up B. anthracis spores. Once inside, the spores germinate to form vegetative bacteria. The vegetative bacteria are extremely susceptible to neutrophil-killing mechanisms. The B. anthracis virulence factors (molecules that make bacteria cause diseases) manipulate other human cells but do not deter neutrophils. B. anthracis is indeed exquisitely sensitive to the neutrophil protein α-defensin. These data support a new model where B. anthracis skin, but not lung, infections are controlled by the antimicrobial activity of neutrophils.
The immunoreactivities of hydrogen fluoride (HF)-released cell wall polysaccharides (HF-PSs) from selected Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus cereus strains were compared using antisera against live and killed B. anthracis spores. These antisera bound to the HF-PSs from B. anthracis and from three clinical B. cereus isolates (G9241, 03BB87, and 03BB102) obtained from cases of severe or fatal human pneumonia but did not bind to the HF-PSs from the closely related B. cereus ATCC 10987 or from B. cereus type strain ATCC 14579. Antiserum against a keyhole limpet hemocyanin conjugate of the B. anthracis HF-PS (HF-PS-KLH) also bound to HF-PSs and cell walls from B. anthracis and the three clinical B. cereus isolates, and B. anthracis spores. These results indicate that the B. anthracis HF-PS is an antigen in both B. anthracis cell walls and spores, and that it shares cross-reactive, and possibly pathogenicity-related, epitopes with three clinical B. cereus isolates that caused severe disease. The anti-HF-PS-KLH antiserum cross-reacted with the bovine serum albumin (BSA)-conjugates of all B. anthracis and all B. cereus HF-PSs tested, including those from nonclinical B. cereus ATCC 10987 and ATCC 14579 strains. Finally, the serum of vaccinated (anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA)) Rhesus macaques that survived inhalation anthrax contained IgG antibodies that bound the B. anthracis HF-PS-KLH conjugate. These data indicate that HF-PSs from the cell walls of the bacilli tested here are (i) antigens that contain (ii) a potentially virulence-associated carbohydrate antigen motif, and (iii) another antigenic determinant that is common to B. cereus strains.
antigens; Bacillus anthracis; Bacillus cereus; polysaccharides; specificity
Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, is an agent of bioterrorism. The most effective antimicrobial therapy for B. anthracis infections is unknown. An in vitro pharmacodynamic model of B. anthracis was used to compare the efficacies of simulated clinically prescribed regimens of moxifloxacin, linezolid, and meropenem with the “gold standards,” doxycycline and ciprofloxacin. Treatment outcomes for isogenic spore-forming and non-spore-forming strains of B. anthracis were compared. Against spore-forming B. anthracis, ciprofloxacin, moxifloxacin, linezolid, and meropenem reduced the B. anthracis population by 4 log10 CFU/ml over 10 days. Doxycycline reduced the population of this B. anthracis strain by 5 log10 CFU/ml (analysis of variance [ANOVA] P = 0.01 versus other drugs). Against an isogenic non-spore-forming strain, meropenem killed the vegetative B. anthracis the fastest, followed by moxifloxacin and ciprofloxacin and then doxycycline. Linezolid offered the lowest bacterial kill rate. Heat shock studies using the spore-producing B. anthracis strain showed that with moxifloxacin, ciprofloxacin, and meropenem therapies the total population was mostly spores, while the population was primarily vegetative bacteria with linezolid and doxycycline therapies. Spores have a profound impact on the rate and extent of killing of B. anthracis. Against spore-forming B. anthracis, the five antibiotics killed the total (spore and vegetative) bacterial population at similar rates (within 1 log10 CFU/ml of each other). However, bactericidal antibiotics killed vegetative B. anthracis faster than bacteriostatic drugs. Since only vegetative-phase B. anthracis produces the toxins that may kill the infected host, the rate and mechanism of killing of an antibiotic may determine its overall in vivo efficacy. Further studies are needed to examine this important observation.
Based on previous studies showing that host chemokines exert antimicrobial activities against bacteria, we sought to determine whether the interferon-inducible Glu-Leu-Arg-negative CXC chemokines CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11 exhibit antimicrobial activities against Bacillus anthracis. In vitro analysis demonstrated that all three CXC chemokines exerted direct antimicrobial effects against B. anthracis spores and bacilli including marked reductions in spore and bacillus viability as determined using a fluorometric assay of bacterial viability and CFU determinations. Electron microscopy studies revealed that CXCL10-treated spores failed to undergo germination as judged by an absence of cytological changes in spore structure that occur during the process of germination. Immunogold labeling of CXCL10-treated spores demonstrated that the chemokine was located internal to the exosporium in association primarily with the spore coat and its interface with the cortex. To begin examining the potential biological relevance of chemokine-mediated antimicrobial activity, we used a murine model of inhalational anthrax. Upon spore challenge, the lungs of C57BL/6 mice (resistant to inhalational B. anthracis infection) had significantly higher levels of CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11 than did the lungs of A/J mice (highly susceptible to infection). Increased CXC chemokine levels were associated with significantly reduced levels of spore germination within the lungs as determined by in vivo imaging. Taken together, our data demonstrate a novel antimicrobial role for host chemokines against B. anthracis that provides unique insight into host defense against inhalational anthrax; these data also support the notion for an innovative approach in treating B. anthracis infection as well as infections caused by other spore-forming organisms.
In October 2001, a letter containing a large number of anthrax spores was sent through the Brentwood post office in Washington, D.C., to a United States Senate office on Capitol Hill, resulting in contamination in both places. Several thousand people who worked at these sites were screened for spore exposure by collecting nasal swab samples. We describe here a screening protocol which we, as a level A laboratory, used on very short notice to process a large number of specimens (3,936 swabs) in order to report preliminary results as quickly as possible. Six isolates from our screening met preliminary criteria for Bacillus anthracis identification and were referred for definitive testing. Although none of the isolates was later confirmed to be B. anthracis, we studied these isolates further to define their biochemical characteristics and 16S rRNA sequences. Four of the six isolates were identified as Bacillus megaterium, one was identified as Bacillus cereus, and one was an unidentifiable Bacillus sp. Our results suggest that large-scale nasal-swab screening for potential exposure to anthrax spores, particularly if not done immediately postexposure, may not be very effective for detecting B. anthracis but may detect a number of Bacillus spp. that are phenotypically very similar to B. anthracis.
In response to a bioterrorism attack in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2001, a mobile laboratory (ML) was set up in the city to conduct rapid molecular tests on environmental samples for the presence of Bacillus anthracis spores and to route samples for further culture analysis. The ML contained class I laminar-flow hoods, a portable autoclave, two portable real-time PCR devices (Ruggedized Advanced Pathogen Identification Device [RAPID]), and miscellaneous supplies and equipment to process samples. Envelopes and swab and air samples collected from 30 locations in the metropolitan area once every three days were subjected to visual examination and DNA extraction, followed by real-time PCR using freeze-dried, fluorescent-probe-based reagents. Surface swabs and air samples were also cultured for B. anthracis at the National Veterinary Service Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. From 24 October 2001 to 15 September 2002, 2,092 pieces of mail were examined, 405 real-time PCR assays were performed (comprising 4,639 samples), and at the NVSL 6,275 samples were subjected to over 18,000 platings. None of the PCR assays on DNA extracted from swab and air samples were positive, but viable spores were cultured from surface swabs taken from six locations in the metropolitan area in October, November, and December 2001 and February, March, and May 2002. DNA extracted from these suspected B. anthracis colonies was positive by real-time and conventional PCRs for the lethal factor, pXO1, and for capA and vrr genes; sequence analysis of the latter amplicons indicated >99% homology with the Ames, vollum, B6273-93, C93022281, and W-21 strains of B. anthracis, suggesting they arose from cross-contamination during the attack through the mail. The RAPID-based PCR analysis provided fast confirmation of suspect colonies from an overnight incubation on agar plates.
Chemokines have been found to exert direct, defensin-like antimicrobial activity in vitro, suggesting that, in addition to orchestrating cellular accumulation and activation, chemokines may contribute directly to the innate host response against infection. No observations have been made, however, demonstrating direct chemokine-mediated promotion of host defense in vivo. Here, we show that the murine interferon-inducible CXC chemokines CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11 each exert direct antimicrobial effects in vitro against Bacillus anthracis Sterne strain spores and bacilli including disruptions in spore germination and marked reductions in spore and bacilli viability as assessed using CFU determination and a fluorometric assay of metabolic activity. Similar chemokine-mediated antimicrobial activity was also observed against fully virulent Ames strain spores and encapsulated bacilli. Moreover, antibody-mediated neutralization of these CXC chemokines in vivo was found to significantly increase host susceptibility to pulmonary B. anthracis infection in a murine model of inhalational anthrax with disease progression characterized by systemic bacterial dissemination, toxemia, and host death. Neutralization of the shared chemokine receptor CXCR3, responsible for mediating cellular recruitment in response to CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11, was not found to increase host susceptibility to inhalational anthrax. Taken together, our data demonstrate a novel, receptor-independent antimicrobial role for the interferon-inducible CXC chemokines in pulmonary innate immunity in vivo. These data also support an immunomodulatory approach for effectively treating and/or preventing pulmonary B. anthracis infection, as well as infections caused by pathogenic and potentially, multi-drug resistant bacteria including other spore-forming organisms.
Innate immunity is critical to host defense and plays a central role in protecting the lungs from respiratory pathogens. Among the mediators important in the innate host response to pulmonary infection are chemokines, proteins originally described for their ability to regulate immune cell trafficking during an inflammatory response. More recently, chemokines have been found to exert direct antimicrobial activity against a broad range of bacteria and fungi in vitro. While these observations suggest chemokines may contribute to host defense by killing microorganisms at local sites of infection through activities not associated with cellular chemokine receptors, the biological relevance of direct chemokine-mediated antimicrobial activity in vivo has not been established. Here we show that the murine chemokines CXCL9, CXCL10, and CXCL11 exert direct antimicrobial effects against B. anthracis in vitro and that neutralization of these CXC chemokines, but not their shared receptor CXCR3, increases host susceptibility to pulmonary B. anthracis infection in vivo. These data provide unique insight into the host mediators important in host-pathogen interaction and pathogenesis of disease and support the emerging concept that host chemokines mediate efficient, pleiotropic roles that include receptor-independent promotion of host defense in vivo.
On November 19, 2001, a case of inhalational anthrax was identified in a 94-year-old Connecticut woman, who later died. We conducted intensive surveillance for additional anthrax cases, which included collecting data from hospitals, emergency departments, private practitioners, death certificates, postal facilities, veterinarians, and the state medical examiner. No additional cases of anthrax were identified. The absence of additional anthrax cases argued against an intentional environmental release of Bacillus anthracis in Connecticut and suggested that, if the source of anthrax had been cross-contaminated mail, the risk for anthrax in this setting was very low. This surveillance system provides a model that can be adapted for use in similar emergency settings.
From October 4 to November 2, 2001, the first 10 confirmed cases of inhalational anthrax caused by intentional release of Bacillus anthracis were identified in the United States. Epidemiologic investigation indicated that the outbreak, in the District of Columbia, Florida, New Jersey, and New York, resulted from intentional delivery of B. anthracis spores through mailed letters or packages. We describe the clinical presentation and course of these cases of bioterrorism-related inhalational anthrax. The median age of patients was 56 years (range 43 to 73 years), 70% were male, and except for one, all were known or believed to have processed, handled, or received letters containing B. anthracis spores. The median incubation period from the time of exposure to onset of symptoms, when known (n=6), was 4 days (range 4 to 6 days). Symptoms at initial presentation included fever or chills (n=10), sweats (n=7), fatigue or malaise (n=10), minimal or nonproductive cough (n=9), dyspnea (n=8), and nausea or vomiting (n=9). The median white blood cell count was 9.8 X 10(3)/mm(3) (range 7.5 to 13.3), often with increased neutrophils and band forms. Nine patients had elevated serum transaminase levels, and six were hypoxic. All 10 patients had abnormal chest X-rays; abnormalities included infiltrates (n=7), pleural effusion (n=8), and mediastinal widening (seven patients). Computed tomography of the chest was performed on eight patients, and mediastinal lymphadenopathy was present in seven. With multidrug antibiotic regimens and supportive care, survival of patients (60%) was markedly higher (<15%) than previously reported.
In 2001, envelopes loaded with Bacillus anthracis spores were mailed to Senators Daschle and Leahy as well as to the New York Post and NBC News buildings. Additional letters may have been mailed to other news agencies because there was confirmed anthrax infection of employees at these locations. These events heightened the awareness of the lack of understanding of the mechanism(s) by which objects contaminated with a biological agent might spread disease. This understanding is crucial for the estimation of the potential for exposure to ensure the appropriate response in the event of future attacks. In this study, equipment to simulate interactions between envelopes and procedures to analyze the spread of spores from a “payload” envelope (i.e., loaded internally with a powdered spore preparation) onto neighboring envelopes were developed. Another process to determine whether an aerosol could be generated by opening contaminated envelopes was developed. Subsequent generations of contaminated envelopes originating from a single payload envelope showed a consistent two-log decrease in the number of spores transferred from one generation to the next. Opening a tertiary contaminated envelope resulted in an aerosol containing 103 B. anthracis spores. We developed a procedure for sampling contaminated letters by a nondestructive method aimed at providing information useful for consequence management while preserving the integrity of objects contaminated during the incident and preserving evidence for law enforcement agencies.
In this work are reported the results of a qualitative analytical method capable of detecting Bacillus anthracis spores when they are present in very low concentration in the soil. The Ground Anthrax Bacillus Refined Isolation (GABRI) method, assessed in our laboratory, was compared with the classic method. The comparison involved artificially anthrax-contaminated soil samples (500 spores/7.5 grams soil) and naturally contaminated soil samples collected in Bangladesh during a field investigation.
The results indicated that, in contrast to the classic method, the GABRI method was able to detect B.anthracis in all contaminated samples. The GABRI method produces a more sensitive measure of anthrax spore presence significantly different from the standard method. In particular, the latter is more sensitive to the presence of normal soil contaminants.
The main feature of the GABRI method is its ability to strongly reduce the presence of the environmental contaminants, which being much more numerous than B. anthracis tend to inhibit their germination and growth making it extremely difficult to visualize any colonies. The reduction of the microbial environment also allows one to be able to culture and test a larger quantity of potentially contaminated soil and to isolate B. anthracis when the spores are present in very low concentrations in the soil.
Bacillus anthracis; Contaminated soil; Isolation; Method
Inhalation anthrax is a potentially lethal form of disease resulting from exposure to aerosolized Bacillus anthracis spores. Over the last decade, incidents spanning from the deliberate mailing of B. anthracis spores to incidental exposures in users of illegal drugs have highlighted the importance of developing new medical countermeasures to protect people who have been exposed to “anthrax spores” and are at risk of developing disease. The New Zealand White rabbit (NZWR) is a well-characterized model that has a pathogenesis and clinical presentation similar to those seen in humans. This article reports how the NZWR model was adapted to evaluate postexposure prophylaxis using a recombinant protective antigen (rPA) vaccine in combination with an oral antibiotic, levofloxacin. NZWRs were exposed to multiples of the 50% lethal dose (LD50) of B. anthracis spores and then vaccinated immediately (day 0) and again on day 7 postexposure. Levofloxacin was administered daily beginning at 6 to 12 h postexposure for 7 treatments. Rabbits were evaluated for clinical signs of disease, fever, bacteremia, immune response, and survival. A robust immune response (IgG anti-rPA and toxin-neutralizing antibodies) was observed in all vaccinated groups on days 10 to 12. Levofloxacin plus either 30 or 100 μg rPA vaccine resulted in a 100% survival rate (18 of 18 per group), and a vaccine dose as low as 10 μg rPA resulted in an 89% survival rate (16 of 18) when used in combination with levofloxacin. In NZWRs that received antibiotic alone, the survival rate was 56% (10 of 18). There was no adverse effect on the development of a specific IgG response to rPA in unchallenged NZWRs that received the combination treatment of vaccine plus antibiotic. This study demonstrated that an accelerated two-dose regimen of rPA vaccine coadministered on days 0 and 7 with 7 days of levofloxacin therapy results in a significantly greater survival rate than with antibiotic treatment alone. Combination of vaccine administration and antibiotic treatment may be an effective strategy for treating a population exposed to aerosolized B. anthracis spores.
Inhalation anthrax is characterized by a systemic spread of the challenge agent, Bacillus anthracis. It causes severe damage, including multiple hemorrhagic lesions, to host tissues and organs. It is widely believed that anthrax lethal toxin secreted by proliferating bacteria is a major cause of death, however, the pathology of intoxication in experimental animals is drastically different from that found during the infectious process. In order to close a gap between our understanding of anthrax molecular pathology and the most prominent clinical features of the infectious process we undertook bioinformatic and experimental analyses of potential proteolytic virulence factors of B. anthracis distinct from lethal toxin.
Secreted proteins (other than lethal and edema toxins) produced by B. anthracis were tested for tissue-damaging activity and toxicity in mice. Chemical protease inhibitors and rabbit immune sera raised against B. anthracis proteases were used to treat mice challenged with B. anthracis (Sterne) spores.
B. anthracis strain delta Ames (pXO1-, pXO2-) producing no lethal and edema toxins secrets a number of metalloprotease virulence factors upon cultivation under aerobic conditions, including those with hemorrhagic, caseinolytic and collagenolytic activities, belonging to M4 and M9 thermolysin and bacterial collagenase families, respectively.
These factors are directly toxic to DBA/2 mice upon intratracheal administration at 0.5 mg/kg and higher doses. Chemical protease inhibitors (phosphoramidon and 1, 10-phenanthroline), as well as immune sera against M4 and M9 proteases of B. anthracis, were used to treat mice challenged with B. anthracis (Sterne) spores. These substances demonstrate a substantial protective efficacy in combination with ciprofloxacin therapy initiated as late as 48 h post spore challenge, compared to the antibiotic alone.
Secreted proteolytic enzymes are important pathogenic factors of B. anthrasis, which can be considered as effective therapeutic targets in the development of anthrax treatment and prophylactic approaches complementing anti-lethal toxin therapy.