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J Wildl Dis. 2018 Jan;54(1):34-44. doi: 10.7589/2017-04-069. Epub 2017 Oct 20.

DUST-BATHING BEHAVIORS OF AFRICAN HERBIVORES AND THE POTENTIAL RISK OF INHALATIONAL ANTHRAX.

Author information

1
1 Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Namibia, Private Bag 13301, Windhoek, Namibia.
2
2 Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York, University at Albany, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany, New York 12222, USA.

Abstract

:  Anthrax in herbivorous wildlife and livestock is generally assumed to be transmitted via ingestion or inhalation of Bacillus anthracis spores. Although recent studies have highlighted the importance of the ingestion route for anthrax transmission, little is known about the inhalational route in natural systems. Dust bathing could aerosolize soilborne pathogens such as B. anthracis, exposing dust-bathing individuals to inhalational infections. We investigated the potential role of dust bathing in the transmission of inhalational anthrax to herbivorous wildlife in Etosha National Park, Namibia, an area with endemic seasonal anthrax outbreaks. We 1) cultured soils from dust-bathing sites for the presence and concentration of B. anthracis spores, 2) monitored anthrax carcass sites, the locations with the highest B. anthracis concentrations, for evidence of dust bathing, including a site where a zebra died of anthrax on a large dust bath, and 3) characterized the ecology and seasonality of dust bathing in plains zebra ( Equus quagga), blue wildebeest ( Connochaetes taurinus), and African savanna elephant ( Loxodonta africana) using a combination of motion-sensing camera traps and direct observations. Only two out of 83 dust-bath soils were positive for B. anthracis, both with low spore concentrations (≤20 colony-forming units per gram). We also detected no evidence of dust baths occurring at anthrax carcass sites, perhaps due to carcass-induced changes in soil composition that may deter dust bathing. Finally, despite observing some seasonal variation in dust bathing, preliminary evidence suggests that the seasonality of dust bathing and anthrax mortalities are not correlated. Thus, although dust bathing creates a dramatic cloud of aerosolized soil around an individual, our microbiologic, ecologic, and behavioral results in concert demonstrate that dust bathing is highly unlikely to transmit inhalational anthrax infections.

KEYWORDS:

Bacillus anthracis; Connochaetes taurinus; Equus quagga; Etosha National Park; Loxodonta africana; dust bathing; inhalational anthrax

PMID:
29053428
DOI:
10.7589/2017-04-069
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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