Several dozen federal scientists in Atlanta may have been exposed to live anthrax after researchers in a biosecurity lab violated procedures for inactivating the deadly bacteria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.
The potential exposure of up to 75 researchers was discovered Friday night, but so far none has shown any symptoms, agency official Paul Meechan told Reuters. All are being offered two months of antibiotics and an anthrax vaccine injection.
"Out of an abundance of caution, CDC is taking aggressive steps to protect the health of all involved," the agency said in a statement. "Based on most of the potential exposure scenarios, the risk of infection is very low."
Researchers at a high-security CDC lab transferred the samples to other labs not equipped for live anthrax. The agency is investigating whether the samples, which are handled under strict procedures, contained live bacteria when they were passed along.
Meechan said the agency is investigating whether the transfer was accidental or intentional.
Anthrax, which occurs naturally in soil, affects domestic and wild animals, and humans can become infected from close contact with them or animal products. The illness is not contagious.
Symptoms, which can mimic the flu or a cold, can appear between one day or more than two months.