Health News

Anthrax Distribution ‘Oops’ Leads To U.S. Army Labs Safety Review

It was a close call.

Earlier this year, an anthrax scare erupted when the U.S. Army realized they had accidentally sent live anthrax to several of military stations worldwide. At one point during the investigation, it was believed that more than fifty labs could have been contaminated with the deadly bacteria in seventeen states and three foreign countries. This number ended up being considerably higher, as the investigation ultimately revealed over 194 labs across fifty states and nine countries were erroneously shipped samples of the live anthrax.

Fortunately the incident was caught early and no one got sick, though many people believe to have been exposed took medication as a preventative measure.

The scare prompted Army Secretary John McHugh to suspend lab operations at the following four Defense Department facilities:

  • Dugway Proving Ground Life Sciences Test Facility near Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Gunpowder, Maryland
  • U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease in Frederick, Maryland
  • Naval Medical Research Center in Fort Detrick, Maryland

An investigation performed in July 2015 suggested that safety violations at the Dugway location, which distributed the anthrax, have been ongoing for the past ten years. Tech Times quoted Robert O. Work, the secretary of Deputy Defense, as saying “During an investigation performed in July 2015 following the Dugway incident, the results revealed that systemic setbacks with irradiation and testing protocols utilized for 10 years were found.”

Safety reviews are also underway for the four stations, as well as five other stations:

  • 711th Personnel Wing, Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio
  • U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 3 in Cairo, Egypt
  • U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 6 in Lima, Peru
  • U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts
  • Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia

The Associated Press reports that medical technicians were not appropriately killing the anthrax bacteria, nor were they testing the properly samples afterward; a sign of a rushed job.

Medical technicians are supposed to kill the anthrax bacteria with gamma rays, and then test samples from the lots to make sure the radiation succeeded in killing them. Investigators believe they were trying to kill too much at a time, and then doing inadequate testing afterward.

The CDC notes on their website that though anthrax is not contagious, person-to-person transmission can occur from skin lesion discharges, which can be infectious. According to CBS News, if live spores are inhaled, such as the ones mistakenly sent out to the facilities, they can cause death in as little as two days with symptoms no worse than a typical cold.

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