October 14, 2021

CDC Highlights Cases of Anthrax Pneumonia in Welders, Metalworkers

Since 1994, seven people in the U.S.—all of whom were welders or other metalworkers—have been infected with Bacillus cereus group bacteria containing anthrax toxin genes resulting in pneumonia, according to a new report published by CDC. The report describes B. cereus group bacteria as “gram-positive facultative anaerobes, often toxin-producing, that are ubiquitous in the environment and reside naturally in soil and dust.” The affected individuals had all worked in Louisiana or Texas. According to CDC, five of the patients died and two had “critical illness with prolonged hospitalization and recovery.” One of the patients who recovered was a welder who worked in Louisiana and was infected in 2020; he was treated with anthrax antitoxin. Another welder who worked in Texas was also infected last year and died of pneumonia.

“Understanding the extent to which Bacillus species other than B. anthracis carry anthrax toxin genes and whether their geographic range extends beyond the U.S. Gulf Coast states is limited,” the report explains. “Furthermore, little is known about why these highly fatal pneumonia cases have only been detected among welders and other metalworkers.”

Despite limited knowledge of this issue, the report’s authors urge employers and others to take action to decrease the risk for lung infection, including anthrax pneumonia, among these metalworkers. According to CDC, employers should educate workers about the hazards associated with welding and protective measures for minimizing potential exposures. The agency also suggests targeted outreach to increase workers’ awareness about pulmonary infections, especially in U.S. Gulf Coast states such as Louisiana and Texas.

Further details and recommendations are available in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.