Pentagon officials announced on Friday, the plan to launch an investigation into the mishandling of deadly anthrax samples following the news that several other infectious samples were inadvertently sent to a lab in Australia. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will lead the investigation according to Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren. Dugway officials reviewed its samples after it was discovered that some live anthrax had been sent to labs in the United States and at a base in South Korea. It found that a batch from 2008 contained live anthrax. A sample of that batch had been sent to Australia, and officials there were notified to test it.
The discovered sample in Australia was supposedly killed in 2008 and has now raised questions whether more labs than currently known have received potentially dangerous specimens that their scientists assume are safe to work with without protective gear. The military has ordered all of its labs that have previously received inactive anthrax samples to test them. In addition it is advising all labs to cease working with these samples until told otherwise. News of the live shipments were first reported on Wednesday , as officials said that the US had accidentally shipped live anthrax spores from Utah to labs in Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, as well as an air base in South Korea.
Four lab workers in three states – Delaware, Texas and Wisconsin – that received the specimens are currently taking antibiotics as a precaution after doing work with the specimens that resulted in aerosolized particles that have the potential to have been inhaled. If inhaled, anthrax spores can cause potentially fatal illness. CDC spokesman Jason McDonald reports that nobody has shown any signs of illness. The growing scope of the military’s mistakes with anthrax specimens comes after numerous high-profile lab accidents over the past year with dangerous pathogens.
Twenty-two military personnel in South Korea received preventive treatment this week after being possibly exposed to the sample sent to Osan Air Base. The personnel at the South Korean base might have come into contact with the anthrax sample during a “training event”, the US military said, but so far none had shown “any signs” of exposure.
Anthrax first entered the national spotlight in 2001, soon after the 9/11 attacks, letters containing powdered anthrax arrived at news organisations and the offices of US senators. Twenty-two people were sickened and of those, five people died. CDC released an email to USA Today saying the scope of the live anthrax samples could be much larger than currently known.
“We already know that more labs and more lots of inactivation failures with anthrax spores are being identified,” warned Daniel Sosin, deputy director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, in the email late Friday to state officials. “We have concern that the inactivation procedures, when followed properly, are inadequate to kill all spores, and the U.S. government is developing an approach to securing such possible samples from misuse.” As the investigation continues, state health departments are working to help decontaminate labs and advise workers who may have handled the live anthrax specimens. The samples had been sent to labs that are working with the military to develop a new diagnostic test to identify biological threats.