Aim: To evaluate US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended swab surface sample collection method for recovery efficiency and limit of detection for powdered Bacillus spores from nonporous surfaces.
Methods and Results: Stainless steel and painted wallboard surface coupons were seeded with dry aerosolized Bacillus atrophaeus spores and surface concentrations determined. The observed mean rayon swab recovery efficiency from stainless steel was 0·41 with a standard deviation (SD) of ±0·17 and for painted wallboard was 0·41 with an SD of ±0·23. Evaluation of a sonication extraction method for the rayon swabs produced a mean extraction efficiency of 0·76 with an SD of ±0·12. Swab recovery quantitative limits of detection were estimated at 25 colony forming units (CFU) per sample area for both stainless steel and painted wallboard.
Conclusions: The swab sample collection method may be appropriate for small area sampling (10 –25 cm2) with a high agent concentration, but has limited value for large surface areas with a low agent concentration. The results of this study provide information necessary for the interpretation of swab environmental sample collection data, that is, positive swab samples are indicative of high surface concentrations and may imply a potential for exposure, whereas negative swab samples do not assure that organisms are absent from the surfaces sampled and may not assure the absence of the potential for exposure.
Significance and Impact of the Study: It is critical from a public health perspective that the information obtained is accurate and reproducible. The consequence of an inappropriate public health response founded on information gathered using an ineffective or unreliable sample collection method has the potential for undesired social and economic impact.