Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Dust Storm Fallout: Tiniest Travelers Pose Greatest Infection Threat

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Dust Storm Fallout: Tiniest Travelers Pose Greatest Infection Threat

Article excerpt

Dust isn't just a nuisance--its ability to clog human airways and carry pathogens poses a human health problem. In the sub-Saharan region of Africa, the World Health Organization pinpointed dust storms exacerbated by the dry season and drought as a cause of outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis. Dust from Saharan storms can reach as far away as Florida, with particles smaller than 2.5 [mu]m traveling the greatest distances. Studies have shown that human exposure to these tiny particles is associated with human mortality, and new research now shows that such particles are also more likely to carry health-threatening bacteria [EHP 116:292-296; Polymenakou et al.].

During a strong Saharan dust storm in 2006, researchers collected air samples in Heraklion, Crete, an area that often feels the effects of such storms. Particles from the samples were separated according to size ( > 7.9 [mu]m, 3.3-7.9 [mu]m, 1.6-3.3 m, 1.0-1.6 [mu]m, 0.55-1.0 [mu]m, or < 0.55 [mu]m) using a machine called a high-volume cascade The researchers characterized the bacteria traveling on particles of various sizes by taking samples from the machine's filters, then cloning and sequencing a strand of DNA commonly used to identify bacteria. This process created an inventory of the bacterial gene sequences present in each of the six particle-size ranges. …

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