Concern is rising after the Centers for Disease Control released information that up to 75 employees of the agency may have been exposed to anthrax. The disease that has been on most Americans’ panic list since it was used in terrorist attacks on this country over a decade ago may have now endangered the lives of more people, due to mishandling.
According to the New York Times, anthrax samples were treated to make the bacteria inactive, then moved to a different lab. There are different levels of precautionary measures for different lab areas, depending on the risk level of the materials handled.
These anthrax samples were taken to a location in which workers handle less dangerous samples, including deactivated bacteria, and so are able to take a lower level of precaution in handling.
Unfortunately, due to some error or omission that has not been specified, the samples were not fully deactivated before moving, and workers who were exposed, without masks, may be infected.
According to the CDC, anthrax is not normally contagious, with a few rare possible exceptions in the case of cutaneous, or through the skin, infections. In those cases, the contagion appears to have been through infectious ooze from skin lesions, so there is likely no danger in this case for the general public, or anyone who was not directly exposed.
As for those directly affected, CDC Directer Dr. Paul Meechan told Reuters that no employees who were exposed have shown any signs of infection so far, but that out of what he refers to as “an abundance of caution,” all who may have been exposed are being treated with doses of antibiotics, as well as an anthrax vaccine.
Meechan told Reuters that it’s not yet clear whether the transfer of active anthrax was intentional or a true slip-up, but that all employees who would have been working in that area, and any working with anthrax and similar bacteria, would have a very high level of clearance, and have earned a great deal of trust before reaching that level.
The incident occurred at some point between June 6 and June 13, according to CDC spokesman Thomas Skinner. Since the inhaled form of anthrax can take up to six days to present with symptoms, it seems likely that, with none reported thus far, no one exposed was infected, but the agency is still taking the utmost care in the matter.
The Center for Disease Control will also continue to investigate the matter and attempt to discover the chain of events that led to such a massive number of employees being exposed to anthrax in its activated form.
[Photo Credit: CDC [Public domain]]