Environmental microbial aerosols should not be left aside in eco-epidemiological studies

Similarly to the 8 years preceding it (2015-2022), 2023 has been archived as the hottest among the last 140 years (Witze, 2024).
Published in Microbiology

The remarkably increased concentrations of greenhouse gases - with special emphasis on carbon dioxide and methane, mainly due to human activities - are the main driver for this worrisome global warming, with drought and flooding events (such as the catastrophic ones that occurred last year in Italy in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany Regions) representing two sides of the same coin (Di Guardo, 2023).

A number of viral and non-viral pathogens, sharing a high resistance to physico-chemical inactivation, could plausibly benefit from the aforementioned, progressive increase of global mean temperatures. Among these, the two DNA viruses responsible for monkeypox (Monkeypox Virus, Mpx) - which has been classified as a "public health emergency of international concern" by the World Health Organization - as well as for African swine fever - a non-zoonotic infection which has caused enormous economic losses to the swine herds and industry worldwide - are of special concern (Rheinbaben et al., 2007; Mazur-Panasiuk et al., 2019). Additional microorganisms taking advantage of the alarming "febrile temperature" affecting our Planet, due to their incredibly high environmental resistance, could be prions, among which the agent causing the zoonotic bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - popularly known as "mad cow disease" (Di Guardo, 2015) - deserves special concern, along with Bacillus anthracis, Clostridium tetani and C. botulinum Gram-positive bacteria.

Within this framework, the possibility that winds, air currents and other metereological phenomena could serve as vectors for the aforementioned and additional pathogens sharing a marked resistance to physico-chemical inactivation, thereby transferring such microorganisms even very far away from the site where infected animal and/or human hosts originally shed them into the surrounding environment, should also be taken into account. This could bring, in fact, a strong support to epidemiological investigations, with special reference to those instances in which the origin of a given infectious disease outbreak is particularly difficult to dissect, if not entirely obscure.

During the last decades, several illuminating studies were carried out on "sea spray aerosols" (SSAs), with their composition appearing much more complex than the "salt only" one previously thought. In addition, alongside proteins, enzymes, fatty acids and sugars, a mixed array of viruses and bacteria were found inside SSAs (Schiffer et al., 2018).

Based upon the above, the inclusion (also) of environmental aerosols in the list of factors potentially underlying the occurrence of "mysterious" disease outbreaks caused by particularly resistant pathogens should be regarded as a highly valuable and precious support in "ad hoc" eco-epidemiological studies.

Studies of this kind should be ideally performed through a tight and mutual interdisciplinary cooperation between physicians, veterinarians, biologists and climate scientists, as well as in a One Health perspective, constantly reminding us that human, animal and environmental health are closely and inextricably linked to each other.
Repetita iuvant!


1) Di Guardo G. (2015). Encefalopatie Spongiformi Transmissibili. In: Marcato P.S. Patologia Sistematica Veterinaria, Seconda Edizione, Volume 2, Edagricole-Il Sole 24 Ore, Bologna, Italy, pp. 1302-1311.

2) Di Guardo G. (2023). Land-to-sea pathogen transfer. Vet. Rec. 192:216-217. doi: 10.1002/vetr.2814.

3) Mazur-Panasiuk N., Żmudzki J., Woźniakowski G. African Swine Fever Virus: Persistence in Different Environmental Conditions and the Possibility of its Indirect Transmission (2019). J. Vet. Res. 13;63(3):303-310. doi: 10.2478/jvetres-2019-0058.

4) Rheinbaben F.V. Gebel J., Exner M., Schmidt A. (2007). Environmental resistance, disinfection, and sterilization of poxviruses. In: Mercer A.A., Schmidt A., Weber O. (Eds.) Poxviruses. Birkhäuser Advances in Infectious Diseases. Birkhäuser Basel. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-7643-7557-7_19.

5) Schiffer J.M., Mael L.E., Prather K.A., Amaro R.E., Grassian V.H. (2018). Sea spray aerosol: Where marine biology meets atmospheric chemistry. ACS Central Science 4(12):1617-1623.

6) Witze A. (2024). Earth boiled in 2023: Will it happen again in 2024?
Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00074-z.

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