UK is fourth nation to get live anthrax from US military in massive bungle

A microscopic picture of spores and vegetative cells of Bacillus anthracis which causes the disease anthrax. (Reuters)

The UK is the fourth foreign nation discovered to have received live anthrax from the US military in a burgeoning bio botch. That makes 68 labs across four countries, 19 states, and the District of Columbia that received the lethal spores. No one is certain yet how many more labs may have live anthrax, courtesy of the Pentagon.

Now several workers around the world (Australia, Canada and South Korea also received live samples) are being treated for possible exposure to anthrax, though no one has yet shown symptoms, according to the Department of Defence.

Suspected live anthrax was shipped to a private British lab in 2007, according to authorities. The lab was sent samples from a shipment that appears to be the source of most of the problematic packages from the Dugway Proving Ground, a US Army facility in Utah. The UK lab destroyed the samples shortly after receiving them without knowing they were live and no worker apparently became ill, reports the Guardian.

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"We do not believe there is any continuing health risk to staff or to the public. If anyone would have been exposed in 2007, symptoms would have presented shortly after. No such reports of ill health were apparent in the workforce," said a statement from the Health and Safety Executive.

The British military has ordered all of its labs that have previously received inactive anthrax samples to test them. In addition it is advising all labs to hold off working with these samples.

Dugway produces "weaponised" anthrax in industrial quantities. From there, the US military has shipped anthrax samples to labs around the world to help research into biological warfare and to test detection equipment and treatments. But authorities discovered last month that some shipments weren't properly de-activated over several years. A Pentagon investigation is exploring all possibilities from accident, to faulty process to sabotage.

Symptoms of anthrax exposure include skin ulcers, nausea, vomiting and fever, and can cause death if untreated. Authorities don't believe the live samples represent a threat to the public.

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