Geohealth Editors' Highlights

Dangerous Bacteria Catch a Ride on Saharan Dust

Saharan dust events can spread bacterial pathogens over long distances, but we may be able to predict the human health risk from exposure.

Source: GeoHealth


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A number of recent studies have shown the role that long-distance transport of dust can have on ecosystems. These can be beneficial, such as the “feeding” of the western Hawaiian Islands with limiting phosphorus delivered from the Gobi Desert. They can also be harmful, such as the delivery of pathogens to Caribbean reefs from the Sahara Desert.

Marone et al. [2020] instead highlight the importance of Saharan dust as a human health concern—namely, as a transmission vector for harmful human pathogens. The study directly measures bacteria on dust collected in Senegal, western Africa, and observes some human pathogens, at relatively high concentrations, “catching a ride” on dust. Several of these, such as the gram-positive bacteria Burkholderia Cepacia and Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, are particularly harmful for those with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis. The paper also uses transport models to backtrack the dust particulars to particular sources during several of these events.

Ultimately, the bacteriology and dust transport trajectories may help to provide an assessment of human health risks from particular dust events, maybe even to the point of providing vulnerable populations with an “advance warning system” to avoid exposure by staying indoors during some events.

Citation: Marone, A., Kane, C. T., Mbengue, M., Jenkins, G. S., Niang, D. N., Drame, M. S., & Gernand, J. M. [2020]. Characterization of Bacteria on aerosols from dust events in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. GeoHealth, 4, e2019GH000216. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GH000216

—Gabriel Filippelli, Editor-in-Chief, GeoHealth

Text © 2020. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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