US says 75 government scientists possibly exposed to anthrax
ARLINGTON, VA - JUNE 03: Director of Medical Programs for DoD Chemical and Biological Defense Cdr. Franca Jones demonstrates the protocol for shipping anthrax sample during a news briefing on the DoD Lab Review and Anthrax shipment investigation June 3, 2015 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon announced today the Defense Department may have accidentally shipped live anthrax samples out to at least 51 labs in 17 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - JUNE 03: Director of Medical Programs for DoD Chemical and Biological Defense Cdr. Franca Jones demonstrates the protocol for shipping anthrax sample as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall looks on during a news briefing on the DoD Lab Review and Anthrax shipment investigation June 3, 2015 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon announced today the Defense Department may have accidentally shipped live anthrax samples out to at least 51 labs in 17 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
In this May 11, 2003, file photo, Microbiologist Ruth Bryan works with BG nerve agent simulant in Class III Glove Box in the Life Sciences Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. The specialized airtight enclosure is also used for hands-on work with anthrax and other deadly agents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is investigating what the Pentagon called an inadvertent shipment of live anthrax spores to government and commercial laboratories in as many as nine states, as well as one overseas, that expected to receive dead spores. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)
This image depicted numbers of Bacillus anthracis bacterial colonies, which had been allowed to grow on sheep's blood agar, SBA, for a 24 hour period. Note the classical appearance exhibited in the colonial morphology including a ground-glass, non-pigment. (Photo via Getty)
Chemistry student Jorge Rodriguez Martinez holds a sample of billions of Anthrax bacteria at the National School of Biological Sciences in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001. Two germ banks tucked away in Mexico City stock dozens of petri dishes filled with anthrax, the bacteria that have sparked a worldwide panic. But there are no armed guards, no security cameras and no health officials tottering about in germ-proof space suits. In fact, these labs sell, swap or even give away the potentially deadly microbe to those with scientific credentials. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Dr. Mohammed Ali, left, and Dr. Abdul Wakil stands in front of empty bottles of anthrax vaccine in a Ministry of Agriculture laboratory in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001. The laboratory, which was under Taliban control for five years, produced anthrax vaccine for animals. The now defeated Taliban regime has long denied being involved in chemical or biological weapons research, but it seems to have taken an interest in the work being done at the lab, according to scientists there, and it wasrepeatedly hit by U.S. bombers. (AP Photo/Marco Di Lauro)
Dr. Abdul Wakil holds a bottle of solution used to make anthrax vaccine for animals in a Ministry of Agriculture laboratory in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001. The laboratory, which was under Taliban control for five years, produced anthrax vaccine for animals. The now defeated Taliban regime has long denied being involved in chemical or biological weapons research, but it seems to have taken an interest in the work being done at the lab, according to scientists there, and it was repeatedly hit by U.S. bombers. (AP Photo/Marco Di Lauro)
SLUG:NA/ANTHRAX DATE:10/16/08 QUANTICO, VA CREDIT: DOMINIC BRACCO II From left, forensic examiner Jason Bannan Ph.D., supervisory special agent Scott Decker, and supervisory special agent Matthew Feinberg, pose for a portrait on Oct. 16, 2008 at a lab in Quantico, VA. The three helped solve the anthrax investigation. (Photo by Dominic Bracco Ii/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - May 6: Amir Ettehadieh, Director of Research and Development at Universal Detection Technology, walks past the prototype anthrax-detection device unveiled May 6, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. Universal Detection Technology's Anthrax Smoke Detector monitors the overall level of spores in the air. A sudden spike in the level would indicate a release of spores such as would occur during in a biological terror attack. Instant anthrax exposure detection could save lives by giving patients time to take Cipro before the end of the four-day incubation period. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
The sequence of an anthrax DNA fragment is analyzed under ultraviolet light in this undated handout photo from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. Once the sequence has been determined by electrophoresis or ultra-fast flow cytometry, it can be compared to the anthrax sequence database at the lab to determine its age and geographic origin. (AP Photo/Los Alamos National Laboratory)
A microbiologist checks a petri dish for a bacteria culture in the micro biological laboratory of the regional authorities for food security and consumer protection in the German state Thuringia in Erfurt, eastern Germany, on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2001. Final tests on powder found in a letter that touched off an anthrax scare in Germany found no trace of a deadly bacterium, speakers of the government lab Robert Koch Institute said Saturday, Nov. 3, 2001. The letter was received by a person in the town of Rudolstadt in Thuringia. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Microbiologist Johannetsy Avillan streaks a sample of a bacterium to a blood plate in an anaerobe lab within the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tim Murphy (D-PA), holds up a bag as she speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, during a hearing on the incident last month at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab that handles bioterrorism agents. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Microbiologist Tatiana Travis works with tubes of bacteria samples in an antimicrobial resistance and characterization lab within the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An employee of ATEV Protein Processing Corp. wearing protective gear works at a cattle farm near Tiszafured, 147 kms east of Budapest, Hungary, Friday, July 4, 2014, after persons were hospitalized due to possible anthrax infection. The patients are linked to an illegal slaughter of two cows at the farm where an on-the-spot inspection revealed the bacterium of anthrax. (AP Photo/MTI, Zsolt Czegledi)
FILE - In this July 16, 2014 file photo a chart is on display on Capitol Hill in Washington during the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing about an incident at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab that handles bioterrorism agents. Michael Farrell head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab that potentially exposed workers to live anthrax, resigned an agency spokesman said Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)
FILE - This Jan. 27, 2010, file photo shows the main gate at Dugway Proving Ground military base, about 85 miles southwest Salt Lake City. U.S. officials say systemic problems caused an Army facility to accidentally send live anthrax to other labs for more than a decade. At a press briefing Thursday, July 23, 2015 Pentagon officials said half the lots of anthrax produced at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah contained live anthrax after attempts to kill the bacteria failed. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart, File)
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By Julie Steenhuysen
(Reuters) - As many as 75 scientists working in U.S. federal government laboratories in Atlanta may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria and are being offered treatment to prevent infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.
The potential exposure occurred after researchers working in a high-level biosecurity laboratory at the agency's Atlanta campus failed to follow proper procedures to inactivate the bacteria. They then transferred the samples, which may have contained live bacteria, to lower-security CDC labs not equipped to handle live anthrax.
Dr Paul Meechan, director of the environmental health and safety compliance office at the CDC, said the agency discovered the potential exposure on the evening of Friday, June 13, and immediately began contacting individuals working in the labs who may have unknowingly handled live anthrax bacteria.
"No employee has shown any symptoms of anthrax illness," Meechan told Reuters.
Meechan said the normal incubation period can take up to five to seven days, though there are documented cases of the illness occurring some 60 days after exposure.
Meechan said as many as seven researchers may have come into direct contact with the live anthrax. But the agency is casting as wide a net as possible to make sure all employees at the agency who may have walked into any of the labs at risk are being offered treatment.
Around 75 individuals are being offered a 60-day course of treatment with the antibiotic ciprofloxacin as well as an injection with an anthrax vaccine.
Meechan said it is too early to determine whether the transfer was accidental or intentional. He said that all employees who were doing procedures to inactivate the bacteria were working in a biosecurity laboratory and were "tier one select agent approved," meaning they had undergone a security reliability review and deemed to be "stable, trustworthy individuals."
Meechan said the CDC is conducting an internal investigation to discover how the exposure occurred and said disciplinary measures would be taken if warranted.
"This should not have happened," he said. For those exposed, he said, "We're taking care of it. We will not let our people be at risk."
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Michele Gershberg, James Dalgleish and Eric Walsh)