Live anthrax sent to nine states, US airbase in South Korea

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Live anthrax bacteria has been mistakenly sent from Utah military lab to various labs in nine states and also a US air base in South Korea, US officials said.

There was no known suspected infection or risk to public. However, four civilians have already been started on post-exposure prophylaxis, the Pentagon said

Twenty-two personnel at a South Korean base were given precautionary medical measures although none have shown sign of exposure, the US military said.

The four civilians face “minimal” risk, said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is probing the incident.

When anthrax becomes airborne, it can cause a deadly illness called inhalation anthrax. That occurred in 2001 when five persons were killed: Anthrax was sent through mail to government and the media.

The anthrax, initially sent from a Utah military lab, was meant to be shipped in an inactive state as part of efforts to develop a field-based test to identify biological threats, the Pentagon said.

“Out of caution, the defense department has stopped the shipment of the material from its labs pending completion of the probe,” said Pentagon spokesperson Col Steve Warren.

All samples will be transferred to the CDC or affiliated labs for further testing, spokeswoman Kathy Harden said, adding CDC has sent officials to the labs “to conduct on-site investigations”.

Meanwhile, the four civilians receiving post-exposure prophylaxis are in Delaware, Texas and Wisconsin. “Workers who were not in the same area at the same time are not at risk,” CDC’s McDonald said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the suspected live anthrax samples were sent to US federal, private and academic facilities.

The anthrax was sent to laboratories in Maryland, Texas, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, officials said.

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