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Biosecur Bioterror. 2008 Jun;6(2):147-60. doi: 10.1089/bsp.2007.0066.

Inhalation anthrax: dose response and risk analysis.

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Environmental Science Center, Syracuse Research Corporation, North Syracuse, New York 13212, USA.

Erratum in

  • Biosecur Bioterror. 2008 Dec;6(4):362.


The notion that inhalation of a single Bacillus anthracis spore is fatal has become entrenched nearly to the point of urban legend, in part because of incomplete articulation of the scientific basis for microbial risk assessment, particularly dose-response assessment. Risk analysis (ie, risk assessment, risk communication, risk management) necessitates transparency: distinguishing scientific facts, hypotheses, judgments, biases in interpretations, and potential misinformation. The difficulty in achieving transparency for biothreat risk is magnified by misinformation and poor characterization of both dose-response relationships and the driving mechanisms that cause susceptibility or resistance to disease progression. Regrettably, this entrenchment unnecessarily restricts preparedness planning to a single response scenario: decontaminate until no spores are detectable in air, water, or on surfaces-essentially forcing a zero-tolerance policy inconsistent with the biology of anthrax. We present evidence about inhalation anthrax dose-response relationships, including reports from multiple studies documenting exposures insufficient to cause inhalation anthrax in laboratory animals and humans. The emphasis of the article is clarification about what is known from objective scientific evidence for doses of anthrax spores associated with survival and mortality. From this knowledge base, we discuss the need for future applications of more formal risk analysis processes to guide development of alternative non-zero criteria or standards based on science to inform preparedness planning and other risk management activities.

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