updated 2/12/2012 10:42:12 PM ET 2012-02-13T03:42:12

Vials of E. coli bacteria found in the refrigerator of a Jonesboro apartment have been safely removed, authorities said.

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A maintenance man cleaning out the unit at the Willow Creek Apartments on Friday found 25 vials marked "E. coli" in a foam box in a refrigerator, officials said. The maintenance man notified the facilities manager, who then called Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An Arkansas National Guard hazardous material crew spent most of Friday afternoon and night securing the bacteria and removing it from the apartment, Fire Battalion Chief Marty Hamrick told the Jonesboro Sun for a story in Sunday's editions. The vials were of medical-grade quality but there wasn't enough danger for officials to evacuate the complex, Hamrick said.

As a precaution, however, firefighters washed their boots and equipment, he said.

Hamrick said his comments were limited by federal privacy law but officials don't believe there was anything criminal connected with the discovery.

Jonesboro Assistant Fire Chief Alan Dunn told KAIT-TV that initial tests by firefighters showed no contamination. Testing by the 61st Combat Support Team from Little Rock also found no contamination.

E. coli are a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia. The illness is typically spread through consumption of contaminated food, unpasteurized milk, contaminated water or contact with the feces of infected people.

Dr. Carl Abraham, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at St. Bernards Medical Center, said E. coli bacteria is often shipped in foam containers to medical centers and universities. However, he said it would be "very strange" to find vials of it inside an apartment or a home.

A call to the apartment complex seeking comment from officials wasn't immediately returned Sunday.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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