The strange history of anthrax cases tied to the men’s shaving brushes

Men shaving brushes made of animal hair are connected with the cases of anthrax around the time of the first world War, according to a new report.


Old-fashioned shaving tools are becoming trendy with younger men these days, but such a tool has an interesting history: Men shaving brushes made of animal hair are connected with the cases of anthrax around the time of the first world War, according to a new report.

The report describes some of the hundreds of cases of anthrax , which occurred from 1915 to 1924, were bound to the badgers, especially among men in the U.S. army. Badgers are small facial brushes that are used to apply shaving cream or soap. They were invented in the 18th century.

In 1921, researchers in New York City tested shaving soap on the street to buy, and found Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that anthrax caused, in 78 percent of the tassels, the new report said.

Although the risk of contracting anthrax today of an animal hair shaving brush is extremely low, the report “must serve to remind you who is interested in a return to the ‘natural grooming’ that the use of untreated hair of horses, boars, badgers, or other animals” poses a potential risk of anthrax spores in openings in the skin, the researchers said.

More From LiveScience

  • 27 Devastating Infectious Diseases

  • 10 Bizarre Diseases That You Can Get Outside

  • 10 ‘Barbaric’ Medical Treatments That Are Still Used Today

Traditionally, the brushes are made from the hair of badgers, horses or wild boar, although the badger hair brushes are the most popular, the researchers said. In the last few years, badgers have made something of a comeback as part of a growing niche market of vintage shaving tools, according to the Los Angeles Times .

Given the renewed interest in badgers, the researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, believed that it is relevant to review information about cases of anthrax associated with these brushes.

In the new report, CDC researchers reviewed summaries of disease outbreaks and the medical reports. The outbreak summaries from 1915 to 1924 came from Europe and the United States, and the researchers found 149 cases of anthrax linked to shaving brushes among the members of the U.S. army; 17 cases among U.s. civilians; 28 cases among the members of the British army; and 50 cases among British citizens.

From the medical reports, which were published between 1880 and 2013, the CDC researchers also found 43 cases of anthrax linked to badgers. Two of the cases that occurred between 1917 and 1923, and 84 percent of the patients were Americans. Of the two most “recent” cases, was from 1935, where a man in Trinidad, and the other involved a man in India in 1989.

The cause of the “mini-epidemic” of anthrax cases seem to be related to the disruption of trade during the first world War , the researchers said. Prior to the war, and badger hair for the bristles had to come from Russia, but this the its getting harder and harder to obtain during the war. As a result of horsehair was used for making imitation badger brushes.

However, before the war, the animal hair was decontaminated in France or Germany, before it was sent to the united states While the war was in progress, the hair is shipped directly to the US from Russia, China, or Japan, the researchers said.

Public health officials who investigated the anthrax outbreaks in the time speculated that some manufacturers used horse hair has gotten, because she thought that it was all disinfected.

In addition, some manufacturers may have avoided disinfection of the lighter colored hair brushes, because the high temperature, the treatment would have discolored the brushes and reduced their resemblance to badgers, the researchers said. Lighter-colored tassels were more likely to be linked to cases of anthrax in comparison with dark-colored tassels, they noted.

The connection with horse hair, it is not surprising that the researchers said. Studies have shown that horses are more susceptible to anthrax than badgers and pigs. So, it is even possible that the hair used in these brushes was taken of the horses that died of anthrax, ” she said.

Today, animal-hair shaving brushes are probably a source of anthrax, because of the modern decontamination processes and regulations on the importation, the researchers said. Even the risk of used, vintage brushes would be extremely low, they said. However, the anthrax cases linked to badgers usually involved new brushes, and so the shavers of buying used vintage brushes from the beginning of the 20th century to consider this small risk before using them for shaving, ” she said.

“This historical information is relevant to current public health practice, because of renewed interest in vintage and animal hair shaving brushes is seen in the popular culture,” the researchers wrote in the may issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases . “This information should help health care providers and public health officials to answer questions about this topic.”

The researchers do not recommend trying to disinfect vintage brushes at home, because the risks of this process, where by using steam, pressure and formaldehyde — are likely to outweigh the benefits, they said.

Original article on Live Science .

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular