According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army has erroneously shipped live anthrax to at least 9 countries and all 50 states. Earlier this year, the Defense Department initially claimed that only two countries and 11 states were given live anthrax spores, but an internal investigation revealed that nearly 200 labs mistakenly received the lethal pathogen. On Thursday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh ordered an immediate safety review of all Defense Department labs.
In May, the Defense Department released a statement admitting that 24 laboratories in 11 states and two foreign countries were given live samples of anthrax by mistake. On June 10, the Pentagon updated the numbers to 68 labs in 19 states and four countries. According to the latest count, 88 primary labs received live anthrax and shared it with 106 secondary labs for a total of 194 labs.
Scientists at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah failed to inactivate the spores by adequately irradiating them. Instead of properly checking to make sure that the deadly spores were inactive, Dugway ended up shipping the specimens to nine countries and all 50 states.
Labs in Japan, United Kingdom, Korea, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland received samples from the Ames strain, which is a particularly virulent form of the bacteria used in the 2001 Anthrax attacks. Labs in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., plus Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico also received active spores that were mislabeled as dead.
Although no deaths or serious illnesses have been reported, at least 31 military and civilian personnel were treated with antibiotics as a precaution. In May, workers were given Ciprofloxacin as prophylaxis against infection after a lab in Maryland discovered they had been handling live spores of anthrax.
On Thursday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh ordered an immediate safety review at all nine Department of Defense labs and facilities involved in the production, shipment, and handling of live and inactivated agents and toxins. The Army will also continue its suspension of production, handling, testing, and shipment of anthrax and other agents.
As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began its investigation, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work accurately predicted that the anthrax scandal would only get worse. The Army is conducting an internal investigation into the international blunder.
On June 5, 2014, CDC scientists in the bioterrorism rapid-response lab were testing a new method to kill anthrax bacteria with chemicals instead of radiation. After chemically treating the bacteria, samples were incubated for 24 hours. When discovering no colonies growing on the samples, the scientists assumed the bacteria had died and sent them to low‐security labs. Without advanced protective gear or anthrax vaccinations, the scientists in these labs could have been exposed to the lethal pathogen.
On May 23, 2014, scientists at the US Department of Agriculture found their research birds dead. A CDC lab had accidentally cross‐contaminated a benign strain of bird flu with the deadly H5N1 strain before shipping the birds to the USDA lab.
And on July 1, 2014, six sealed vials of smallpox were located in a Food and Drug Administration lab at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The only two labs authorized to retain smallpox samples are the CDC in Atlanta and a laboratory in Novosibirsk, Russia. Included with the six vials were twelve boxes containing 327 vials holding other infectious agents.
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