Army chief: Human error likely not cause of anthrax mistake

Following the mistaken shipments, CNN reported Wednesday, four Defense Department workers have been put in post-exposure treatment after handling the live anthrax samples.

A civilian lab in Maryland learned Friday that a sample it had obtained from the Dugway defense lab more than a year earlier contained live samples, not inactive spores. The samples could have been sent to other government and privately funded facilities.

“There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers”, both USFK and the Pentagon claimed. A sample was also transported to Osan Air Base in South Korea.

“None of the personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure”, the air base said in a written statement.

The sample was being used in a self-contained “laboratory environment” on the base.

The facility was decontaminated afterward and the anthrax destroyed.

“CDC is working in conjunction with state and federal partners to conduct an investigation with all the labs that received samples from the DOD”, Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman said. It is not clear what went wrong in that process.

“Out of an abundance of caution, DoD has stopped the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation,” he said. Once these spores get into the body of an animal or a person, the CDC says, the water, sugars and other nutrients there can activate the spores, turning them into active, growing cells.

One sample was shipped to an army facility in Maryland, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. Officials with the university say they did a safety review once they were notified and discovered the material was handled by two individuals under appropriate biosafety guidelines.

According to the Defense Department, the U.S. military accidentally shipped live anthrax samples via FedEx to as many as 20 military and commercial laboratories across nine states.

Contact with anthrax spores can cause severe illness. Washington scrapped its bioweapons effort as part of an international treaty, which the United States ratified in 1975.

Last summer, the CDC said about 86 Atlanta-based staff were potentially exposed to live anthrax bacteria.

Researchers at a lab designed to handle extremely dangerous pathogens sent what they believed were killed samples of anthrax to another CDC lab, one with fewer safeguards and therefore not authorised to work with live anthrax.

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