Ten Soldiers and Five Airmen Treated For Possible Anthrax Exposure

Microbiologist Ruth Bryan works with BG nerve agent simulant in Class III Glove Box in the Life Sciences Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
Microbiologist Ruth Bryan works with BG nerve agent simulant in Class III Glove Box in the Life Sciences Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

Ten soldiers and five airmen were among 22 personnel at Osan Air Base in South Korea who were being treated with antibiotics as a precaution after their possible exposure to anthrax, the Pentagon said Thursday.

There were "no suspected or confirmed cases" of anthrax among the 15 service members, four contractors and three civilian personnel at Osan, but all were taking the antibiotic Ciproflaxin, of Cipro, as a precaution, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

"All personnel were provided appropriate medical precautionary measures to include examinations, antibiotics and, in some instances, vaccinations," the Air Force said in a statement. "None of the personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure."

The airbase in South Korea, and nine civilian and government labs in the U.S., last month received anthrax samples from the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah that were to have been irradiated to make the deadly spores inert.

The samples were sent to the labs in the U.S. and to Osan as part of an effort by the military to develop a field test for the presence of biological agents.

However, one of the samples "popped up hot," or showed signs of having live anthrax spores, at a lab in Maryland that the military has not identified, Warren said. Four civilian workers at the Maryland lab were also being treated with antibiotics as a precaution.

The other labs receiving samples from Dugway were in California, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Thus far, there have been no reports of live anthrax bacteria at sites other than the one in Maryland.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which is investigating the handling of the Dugway anthrax sample, said in a statement that the anthrax samples may have gone to as many as 18 labs in the U.S.

At a breakfast meeting with defense writers, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Dugway personnel appeared to have followed guidelines and in handling the samples and investigators were now reviewing themselves to determine why a supposedly inactive sample turned out to have live bacteria.

"The best I can tell there was not human error," Odierno said while stressing that he was commenting based on preliminary reports, Reuters reported.

The CDC, which is investigating the anthrax sample distribution, has had its own problems in handling anthrax.

Last summer, dozens of workers at the CDC in Atlanta were potentially exposed to live anthrax after specimens were not properly inactivated before being transferred between labs.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com

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