Lethal exposure: An integrated approach to pathogen transmission via environmental reservoirs.


To mitigate the effects of zoonotic diseases on human and animal populations, it is critical to understand what factors alter transmission dynamics. Here we assess the risk of exposure to lethal concentrations of the anthrax bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, for grazing animals in a natural system over time through different transmission mechanisms. We follow pathogen concentrations at anthrax carcass sites and waterholes for five years and estimate infection risk as a function of grass, soil or water intake, age of carcass sites, and the exposure required for a lethal infection. Grazing, not drinking, seems the dominant transmission route, and transmission is more probable from grazing at carcass sites 1-2 years of age. Unlike most studies of virulent pathogens that are conducted under controlled conditions for extrapolation to real situations, we evaluate exposure risk under field conditions to estimate the probability of a lethal dose, showing that not all reservoirs with detectable pathogens are significant transmission pathways.

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