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Bacillus anthracis aerosolization associated with a contaminated mail sorting machine

Author(s): Dull PM, Wilson KE, Kournikakis B, Whitney EA, Boulet CA, et al.


On October 12, 2001, two envelopes containing Bacillus anthracis spores passed through a sorting machine in a postal facility in Washington, D.C. When anthrax infection was identified in postal workers 9 days later, the facility was closed. To determine if exposure to airborne B. anthracis spores continued to occur, we performed air sampling around the contaminated sorter. One CFU of B. anthracis was isolated from 990 L of air sampled before the machine was activated. Six CFUs were isolated during machine activation and processing of clean dummy mail. These data indicate that an employee working near this machine might inhale approximately 30 B. anthracis-containing particles during an 8-h work shift. What risk this may have represented to postal workers is not known, but this estimate is approximately 20-fold less than a previous estimate of sub-5 micro m B. anthracis-containing particles routinely inhaled by asymptomatic, unvaccinated workers in a goat-hair mill.

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