Fears for an outbreak of anthrax were piqued when the U.S. Department of Defense admitted that it has shipped live samples of the deadly disease to laboratories in the United States and a U.S. Air Force facility based in South Korea. Fear of contagion prompted U.S. officials to tell at least four civilian employees to seek medical attention. In addition, 20 military personnel are now being monitored for signs of the disease. Military sources say that they are being monitored after receiving antibiotics and other care.
Live samples of anthrax were mistakenly shipped instead of inactive samples via commercial shipping services. However, Pentagon sources claim that there is no "no known risk to the general public." DoD said that the exposure occurred at the Osan Air Base, which is approximately 60 miles from Seoul, the South Korean capital. According to the website of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, anthrax is caused by "rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis" that is found in soil. It affects domestic and wild animals around the world. An island off the shore of the United Kingdom was once infected with anthrax and was kept off-limits to the public for decades out of fear of the bacillus.
At least one laboratory, in Maryland, has received live anthrax spores that were still alive even while the spores should have been killed by irradiation. The anthrax spores originated at the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The samples were shipped to laboratories in nine states to assist in field tests for the fatal disease. Dugway conducts various bio-security and other classified research. Military sources contend that the samples were destroyed on May 27.
An investigation into the snafu is being conducted: the government has ceased the shipment of these biological agents from its facilities until it is complete. Anthrax is highly infectious and its spores can travel airborne and infect its victims. Government precautions following an anthrax scare in 2001 included the screening of mail received at Social Security offices nationwide, as well as the offices of the U.S. Congress. While anthrax spores are easily picked up, persons suffering from the disease are not contagious.
The 28,000 personnel at Osan Air Base are being monitored for exposure to anthrax.