NBC Weapons: June 15, 2004

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Federal authorities are trying to figure out how live anthrax bacteria were shipped from Maryland to California via FedEx. Researchers at a private lab in Oakland, CA requested chemically killed anthrax bacteria from the Southern Research Institute in Frederick, MD three months ago for work in developing a childrens vaccine. About four teaspoons of live anthrax was inadvertently shipped and kept in storage at the Childrens Hospital Oakland Research Institute until last month when it was pulled out and injected into dozens of laboratory mice.

When the mice unexpectedly started dropping dead three days later, researchers ran a second series of tests and then called authorities. The California Department of Health services confirmed live anthrax and seven lab workers were put on a 60-day regiment of the antibiotic Cipro as a precautionary measure. Bioterrorism experts from the FBIs San Francisco office assisted in removing the remaining bacteria from the lab, while the Centers for Disease Control is trying to determine what happened. The CDC is charged with overseeing registration of all facilities using biological agents and toxins, including government agencies, universities, and commercial researchers. Before 9/11 and the anthrax mailings in the fall of 2001, the shipment of deadly live bacterial cultures was basically unregulated and medical researchers simply had to fax a request into a medical supply center to get a supply of anything from anthrax to pneumonic plague. New and more stringent regulations in the wake of 2001 were supposed to tighten controls on shipments of hazardous biological materials. Doug Mohney

 


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