75 U.S. Gov't Scientists 'Possibly Exposed' to Live Anthrax; CDC Probes

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By Ryan Inoyori | June 20, 2014 3:53 PM EST

About 75 scientists working in a U.S. federal government laboratory in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax bacteria. Currently, they are being treated to prevent infection, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Anthrax Potential Exposure

A potential exposure from live anthrax bacteria are now under investigation after researchers in a high-level biosecurity laboratory at a U.S. government agency in Atlanta failed to follow proper procedures to inactivate the bacteria.

Researchers transferred the samples which may have contained live anthrax bacteria to the lower-security CDC labs not equipped to handle them. Around 75 scientists may have been exposed to the deadly toxin and are now under treatment to prevent infection, according to CDC.

"No employee has shown any symptoms of anthrax illness," Dr. Paul Meechan, director of the environmental health and safety compliance office at CDC, told Reuters.

Anthrax's normal incubation period takes up to 5 to 7 days but there are some cases that it can reach up to 60 days after exposure. Infection from anthrax spores can be very deadly and used before as a bioweapon.

Anthrax Basics

Bacillus anthracis are naturally found in soil and commonly affect domestic and wild animals worldwide. These can cause severe illness to both humans and animal,s but are not contagious unlike influenza.

Symptoms of Anthrax

-   Small blisters or bumps, painless skin sore and swelling around the sore from Cutaneous anthrax

-   Fever and chills

-   Shortness of breath from inhalation

-   Nausea

-   Vomiting, including blood vomiting

-   Extreme tiredness

-   Painful swallowing

-   Diarrhea

-   Swollen abdomen if gastrointestinal

Treating Anthrax

Medical specialists can treat anthrax infection using antibiotics and antitoxins. Certain aids are required such as fluid drainage and mechanical ventilation.

1.   Antibiotics: For all types of anthrax infection, antibiotics are normally used and commonly introduced intravenously.

2.  Antitoxins: Treatment used for anthrax spores spreading toxins throughout the body after being "activated."

Anthrax as Bioweapon

CDC noted anthrax is a usable bioweapon due to its efficiency and abundance in nature. Anthrax spores are easy to spread since they cannot be seen by the naked eye, tasteless and have no smell. Terrorists may add anthrax spores in various objects such as powders, sprays, food and even water. It can also be released in air which will be carried by wind to spread quickly.

CDC Spokesman Tom Skinner said appropriate background checks were done on all employees handling the anthrax, but did not reveal whether the FBI has been called for an investigation.

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