The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing the addition of Bacillus cereus Biovar anthracis to the list of HHS select agents and toxins as a Tier 1 select agent.

Bacillus anthracis bacteria Image/CDC
Bacillus anthracis bacteria

Emerging B. cereus strains that cause anthrax-like disease have been isolated in Cameroon (CA strain) and Côte d’Ivoire (CI strain). The geographic distribution of B. cereus Biovar anthracis is limited to some African countries, one registered entity in the United States, and one facility in Germany.

Recent research demonstrates that B. cereus Biovar anthracis has all of the virulence determinants and threat potential of Bacillus anthracis, a Tier 1 select agent.

The CDC says an outbreak of B. cereus Biovar anthracis would require a complex and expensive emergency response effort. This effort would include extensive public health measures, such as quarantine, isolation, preventive treatment and health testing for large numbers of potentially exposed persons, and extensive decontamination. Substantial costs would likely be incurred by hospitals and other medical facilities and institutions of government at all levels.

In addition, an outbreak of B. cereus Biovar anthracis, or widespread fear of one, also would likely create significant secondary effects to society including a potentially rapid increase in health anxiety among healthy individuals. This may result in overcrowded healthcare facilities and emergency rooms, and the disruption of everyday business operations, transportation, and other normal behavior.

“We are taking this action to regulate this agent that is similar to B. anthracis to prevent its misuse, which could cause a biological threat to public health and/or national security,” the CDC said in a Federal Register notice. The interim final rule will become effective Oct 14 after a comment period.

LISTEN: Bioterrorism: An interview with Lawrence Roberge, PhD