Australia second recipient of mistaken live anthrax from US military

Australia second recipient of mistaken live anthrax from US military
30 May 2015

Pentagon lab mistakenly sends anthrax to US base in S Korea - © Christian Charisius, dpa

Washington (dpa) - Australia is the second foreign country that received an inadvertent shipment of live anthrax from the United States, the Pentagon said Friday.

South Korea was the initial country identified early Thursday as the other country.

The Pentagon said it has advised all laboratories that received its anthrax shipments to "stop working with those samples" until further instruction from the Defence Department and the Centers for Disease Control, which is handling the investigation. The Pentagon has also ordered a comprehensive review of defence laboratory procedures intended to make anthrax inactive for research.

The Pentagon added another five laboratories that received live anthrax shipments, bringing the total to 24 laboratories in 11 states and two foreign countries. "There is no known risk to the general public, and an extremely low risk to lab workers," the Pentagon said in a statement. It said that the samples contained small numbers of live anthrax.

In South Korea, 22 people are being treated with antibiotics after a live anthrax sample arrived at Osan Air Base, near the capital Seoul, US media reports said. The people "may have been exposed during the training event" at Osan Air Base, the reports said, quoting a statement from the base. Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said there were no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infections in potentially exposed lab workers.

The anthrax shipments were part of a US military effort to develop a new diagnostic test to identify biological threats. The mistake was discovered after one of the private commercial labs reported it was able to grow live Bacillus anthracis from the samples, the Pentagon said. At the center of the investigation is a lab in Dugway in the state of Utah, which sent the deadly substance to Osan Air Base.

General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told reporters Thursday the anthrax bacteria may not have been treated properly before being sent out. The process "might not have completely killed" the bacteria in this case, he said, according to the Military Times.

Anthrax bacteria can be killed in a number of ways, including irradiation - which is used for some government mail in the United States - or with anti-bacterial chemicals.

Source: dpa.