At least six researchers may have been exposed to deadly anthrax after a shipping foul up led them to believe they were working with dead rather than live bacteria, officials said Thursday.
None of the researchers from Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute has shown signs of infection, and officials do not believe they were exposed, said hospital spokeswoman Bev Mikalonis. However, she said they were being treated with antibiotics as a precaution.
The researchers, who are attempting to develop an anthrax vaccine for children, thought they were working with dead bacteria until mice they were using in experiments began to die.
The researchers followed proper procedures while handling the anthrax shots, Mikalonis said. The liquid anthrax went directly from the syringes into lab mice, she said.
“We do not see a threat or a danger to anyone in the community,” said Dr. Richard Jackson, California’s public health officer. “This really has been very well-controlled.”
The anthrax arrived in Oakland from the Frederick, Md., laboratory of the Southern Research Institute about three months ago, Mikalonis said.
Thomas Voss, who is in charge of homeland security and emerging infectious diseases at Birmingham, Ala.-based SRI, said the company is investigating.
“We aren’t totally sure of the sequence of events,” he said.
Mikalonis said other workers who were in the area when the researchers handled the bacteria may have been exposed but she did not elaborate. She said federal, state and local officials — including the FBI — are investigating.
The Oakland laboratory is located about a mile from the Children’s Hospital but officials said there was no threat to the hospital.
Anthrax attacks killed five people and sickened 17 others in 2001 in the United States. No one has been arrested in the attacks, which spurred the development of better vaccines and treatments than are currently available.
Anthrax produces severe flu-like symptoms in most of its victims. If inhaled, ingested or otherwise introduced into the body, it can kill.