Live Anthrax Samples “Inadvertently” Distributed to U.S. Labs, S. Korean Air Base

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A U.S. Army laboratory in Utah inadvertently sent live samples of anthrax to facilities in nine states, as well as an additional sample to a U.S. military base in Osan, South Korea, Pentagon officials said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported that workers at a facility in Maryland discovered the first live sample after it had arrived from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah on May 22. Pentagon officials said the samples were shipped via a commercial delivery service. Upon further investigation, officials said it was possible the samples in U.S. could have found their way to other government or private facilities.

The Osan Air Base in South Korea said in a statement on Wednesday that 22 personnel may have been exposed to the anthrax and that the base had taken “prudent precautionary measures” to destroy the sample and decontaminate the facility. After a series of examinations, antibiotics and even vaccinations in some cases, the statement added that none of the base’s personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure.

The Pentagon, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Osan Air Base all downplayed the threat, saying there was no threat to the general public in both the U.S. and South Korea. A Pentagon official also confirmed there were no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection among lab workers stateside.

According to the CDC, there are several treatments for anthrax, from antibiotics to antitoxins once the subject is hospitalized. Patients may require “aggressive treatment, such as continuous fluid drainage and help breathing through mechanical ventilation.”

The disease, caused by a bacterium, is spread by spores. Infection can be caused by inhaling or ingesting the spores, or coming into direct contact with diseased flesh or blood, which caused a 2014 outbreak in India that allegedly killed seven people.

Anthrax has also been used in bioterrorism as a biological weapon in powdered and aerosol form. In 2001, several letters containing anthrax spores were went to various media outlets and the offices of two Democratic senators, infecting 22 people (including 12 mail carriers) and ultimately killing five.


Featured image via Washington Post/Utah National Guard

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