Pentagon investigating mistaken shipments of anthrax to 51 labs

Washington, June 4 (IANS) The Pentagon has estimated that active samples of anthrax could have been sent to 51 laboratories in 17 US states and the District of Columbia, in addition to labs in three countries, Efe news agency reported.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said on Wednesday that the Pentagon was assessing the scope of the errors in the distribution of anthrax, which would have been transported, in some cases, by Fedex.

The Pentagon, which has opened an investigation into the matter, distributed samples of the bacillus to laboratories thinking that they were inactive and harmless.

At present, the Defense Department has denied that the shipping of active anthrax was a deliberate act.

Work also said that, for the moment, no cases of contagion were known among the people who could have been exposed to the samples, which were also sent to Australia, South Korea and Canada.

Because the number of labs under suspicion has risen, Work said that people should wait a while to see if further confirmed cases of active anthrax shipped without the appropriate precautions turn up.

Nevertheless, the possibility of infection by the deadly toxin is very low, since the vials containing it did not have concentrated doses, were sealed and it was in liquid form, meaning that it would be almost impossible to become infected by inhaling it.

The investigation, the results of which are expected at the end of the month, is being made more complicated because now the Pentagon will have to review more than 400 anthrax shipments all over the country that were classified as inactive to see if, in fact, that was so.

The Pentagon Police was one of the institutions that could have received suspicious samples of anthrax.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is also cooperating in the investigation.

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