Anthrax scare in Pentagon false alarm

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Two of the Pentagon mailrooms have been subjected to Anthrax tests in response to what appears to have been false alarms. The tests, which have been negative, were done a day after initial testing indicated the deadly spores might be present in some areas, prompting nearly 900 workers to take antibiotics as a precaution; it closed three mail facilities - two that serve the Pentagon and one in Washington that handles mail on its way to the military.

Two of the Pentagon mailrooms have been subjected to Anthrax tests in response to what appears to have been false alarms.

Some of the preliminary results were positive but subsequent additional tests were in fact negative, said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

The three years since the 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks have seen many initial tests that falsely reported anthrax in government mailrooms. In this case, however, two alert systems independently suggested the presence of the bacteria, raising concerns and invoking memories of the attacks that killed five and panicked Americans still raw from the Sept. 11 attacks.

Warning signs of anthrax appeared at two Pentagon mail facilities on Monday, and officials were very concerned, it now appears to have been a coincidence. A filter on a screening device for chemical and biological agents on the Pentagon grounds tested positive for anthrax and triggered off the first alarm then, in a separate incident an alarm was set off at a nearby satellite mail processing facility.

Anthrax, an acute infectious disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, is highly lethal in its most virulent form. It occurs in wild and domestic herbivores, but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals, tissue from infected animals, or high concentrations of anthrax spores. There are no reports of people who were infected through contact with a diseased person. Anthrax means "coal" in Greek, and is used because victims develop black skin lesions.

The events have left many people on edge, especially as hospitals were told to be on the lookout for symptoms including respiratory problems, rashes or flu-like symptoms that could signal exposure to anthrax.

Workers have been advised to continue with the antibiotics until advised to stop which would not be until the final tests come back. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure to infected animals or their products (such as skin and meat). Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products from countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with B. anthracis, and anthrax in wild livestock has occurred in the United States. Although many such workers are routinely exposed to significant levels of anthrax spores, most are not sufficiently exposed to develop symptoms.

Anthrax can be spread through contact with the skin. A more serious form of the disease, inhalation anthrax, is contracted by breathing in spores.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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