As many as 86 government scientists may have been exposed to anthrax. All of them work at the Atlanta-based US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the agency.
The workers were all exposed to the deadly disease anthrax, which comes from the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The accident occurred after established safety measures were not followed correctly.
“We are devastated. It is unacceptable. This is what we do best,” Paul Mecham of CDC’s Environment Health and Safety Compliance Office told ABC News. “Our people are our number one resource. We are going to find out what went wrong and we are going to fix it.”
Anthrax is a rare and deadly disease that has a fairly high mortality rate. Even when treated immediately after exposure, people still have a 45 percent chance of dying of the disease. Without receiving treatment right away, that mortality rate can move up to 92 percent.
Anthrax has a variety of flu-like symptoms, but can eventually lead to pneumonia and complete respiratory shutdown.
“In the worst-case scenarios, literally, within a day or two of exposure, if you’ve inhaled spores and if they are very lethal, one begins to get — as they say — the standard flu symptoms — high fever, malaise,” said Leonard Cole, a bioterrorism expert. “You get lazy. You feel sick. You get headaches. You get bone aches.
“And then after a day or two, in the worst case, if you don’t get treatment, it could be lethal for you, and beyond treatment,” he said.
The disease was exposed to the CDC scientists after it was thought to have been neutralized. The anthrax was supposed to have been neutralized in the Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory, but instead it was brought in live and shipped to two separate labs.
The anthrax was used for lab experiments on June 8th and June 13th. It was discovered to be live on June 13th, after the workers had finished their experiments. The anthrax was immediately destroyed, and the scientists were started on antibiotics.
The workers did not have the proper equipment to deal with the situation, as they thought the disease to be harmless.
It is too early to know if anyone was infected, but hopefully they will receive adequate treatment. Currently, both the FBI and the CDC are looking into what happened, and trying to find a way to prevent this from happening in the future.
“It is CDC’s obligation to ensure that people feel safe and are safe in the workplace and the community as we conduct our life-saving laboratory work. We will report findings of this investigation and all steps we take to improve lab-safety processes as a result of this incident,” the FBI said. Source from CDC.