Live Anthrax Shipped to Multiple States, Two Foreign Countries

U.S. military and federal health officials were left scrambling last week amid fears that live specimens of the deadly pathogen Anthrax were inadvertently shipped to 11 states, as well as South Korea and Australia. One of the labs that received the specimens was located in California. The 10 other affected U.S. states include Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The sample kits were sent to at least 24 facilities from the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. A private lab in Maryland sounded the alarm when it found it was able to grow live Anthrax bacteria from what was supposed to be inactive material. At least 26 people have been treated for possible exposure. The Centers for Disease Control, meanwhile, says it is working with the Pentagon and other federal agencies to find out what went wrong.

For the most part, federal officials remain tight-lipped about the incident. Since none of the labs have been publicly identified, it is unclear which facility in California was potentially affected.

In a statement Thursday, the CDC said it does not suspect any risk to the general public. But the error has raised serious questions about potential deficiencies in the U.S.’s handling of deadly pathogens.

“Clearly, this was a failure that never should have happened,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “Biomedical safety is essential when handling these sorts of agents. We need to get to the bottom of this and find out how it occurred, so it doesn’t happen again.”

A Pentagon probe confirmed late Friday that the shipments go back to at least 2008. The investigation is expected to conclude within 30 days.

Bacillus anthracis is a potentially lethal bacteria which usually affects livestock. It is also ripe for use as a bioterrorism agent due to its easy dispersal and high fatality rate. Anthrax can be contracted through the inhalation of spores, typically through interaction with infected animals, but is not spread from person to person.

Read more about the Anthrax blunder here.