(NaturalNews) A breach of protocol at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) facility near Atlanta, Georgia, may have resulted in some 80 employees being exposed to anthrax, according to new reports. A vaguely specified "laboratory incident" triggered the release of the deadly pathogen in three areas of the campus in early June, though no employees have yet shown symptoms of the disease.
In a notice sent out to CDC employees, agency director Thomas R. Frieden explained that "[e]stablished procedures" at the facility "were not followed," and that all employees would need to take a course of antibiotics to hopefully avoid contracting the pathogen, which can enter the body through various ways to cause different kinds of infections: the skin (cutaneous), the blood (injection), the throat or stomach (gastrointestinal), the brain (meningeal) or the lungs (inhalation).
Since the bacterium, known as Bacillus anthracis, can take days or even weeks to take hold, there is fear within the scientific community that a major outbreak could soon occur. Typically found in soil, anthrax is a spore-forming bacterium that, although it typically emerges in cattle, can affect humans. If contracted, anthrax kills its host between 50 and 90 percent of the time.
"The affected areas were the Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology laboratory (Building 18), the Biotechnology Core Facility (Building 23), and the Special Bacteriology Reference Laboratory (Building 17)," reads the notice issued by Frieden. "Out of an abundance of caution, we are reaching out to all staff who may have entered these laboratories from June 6 - 13, 2014."
Though Frieden was quick to say that CDC staff, family members and the general public "are not at any risk and do not need to take any protective action," all employees at the CDC were given antibiotics and told to take them in accordance with the agency's general guidelines. In some people, symptoms can remain dormant for anywhere form seven days to eight weeks, explains The Daily Beast, which means an outbreak is still possible.
Anthrax exposure believed to have occurred on Friday the 13th
According to Philly.com, the potential exposure was discovered during a cleaning that occurred on Friday the 13th, when original bacteria plates containing live B. anthracis were collected for disposal. It was discovered that the plates still had the bacteria on them, and all workers exposed were immediately notified.
Prior to this date, procedures used in two of the three lower-level laboratories may have also allowed the anthrax samples to become airborne, possibly exposing dozens of other workers to the bacteria. Crews were immediately brought in to swab the labs and connecting hallways, and they will eventually reopen once tests reveal that they are clear of the pathogen.
The timing of the incident and its unknown degree of spread are oddly reminiscent of the infamous 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which resulted in some 50 million people catching the disease and dying. Though its origins are allegedly unknown, the deadly virus somehow emerged and began killing off healthy adults rather than the weak and the elderly, a "puzzling" scenario that the CDC still says is a mystery.
"It's really unfortunate that this happened," stated CDC spokesman Tom Skinner to the Associated Press. "It's unacceptable and we're going to do everything we can to understand why it happened and what we need to do differently to make sure it doesn't happen again."