Authors:Ernst-Jürgen Finke, Wolfgang Beyer, Ulrike Loderstädt, and Hagen Frickmann
Anthrax is an infectious disease of relevance for military forces. Although spores of Bacillus anthracis obiquitously occur in soil, reports on soil-borne transmission to humans are scarce. In this narrative review, the potential of soil-borne transmission of anthrax to humans is discussed based on pathogen-specific characteristics and reports on anthrax in the course of several centuries of warfare. In theory, anthrax foci can pose a potential risk of infection to animals and humans if sufficient amounts of virulent spores are present in the soil even after an extended period of time. In praxis, however, transmissions are usually due to contacts with animal products and reported events of soil-based transmissions are scarce. In the history of warfare, even in the trenches of World War I, reported anthrax cases due to soil-contaminated wounds are virtually absent. Both the perspectives and the experience of the Western hemisphere and of former Soviet Republics are presented. Based on the accessible data as provided in the review, the transmission risk of anthrax by infections of wounds due to spore-contaminated soil is considered as very low under the most circumstance. Active historic anthrax foci may, however, still pose a risk to the health of deployed soldiers.