The mishap occurred when those handling the anthrax bacteria thought it had been inactivated, making it safe to handle. The CDC’s Bioterror Rapid Response unit was preparing a dangerous anthrax strain to be used at two lower-level biosecurity CDC labs. They only became aware of the possible exposure about a week later when the dishes they used showed signs of the anthrax being alive and growing. They realized at this time they had sent similar samples of this live bacteria to the lower biosecurity level labs, which were not equipped to protect people against possible infection, thus exposing scientists and other employees to the bacteria.
Due to the mishap happening at the CDC, the CDC relinquished control of the investigation, giving the investigation over to the US Department of Agriculture to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Usually when there’s some type of safety breach of this kind, the CDC’s Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT) would be the team to take over the investigation. To avoid this possible conflict of interest, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which also is part of the DSAT program, will be in charge.
The initial investigation has found the anthrax spores may have been spread through the air. Both affected labs have been closed as they undergo decontamination procedures. All persons possibly exposed have received antibiotics and vaccines, and will be constantly monitored for any health risks. Making the situation more difficult, the illness can take up to two months to appear after exposure. Currently, none of 84 persons being watched has shown any form of anthrax caused illness.
This isn’t the first incident the CDC has had with the deadly anthrax pathogen. In 2001, five people ended up dying, including two postal workers, after spores were released out of anthrax-filled letters as they were being processed through the mail. The CDC doesn’t want another incident where people die, and they have been making every effort to ensure those who were possibly exposed get the best treatment possible.
Anthrax is a naturally occurring bacteria that can be found in soil, and it can affect both wild and domestic animals. It’s possible for humans to contract the bacteria from these animals, and they can be lethal for those who do not receive treatment.