About 75 scientists may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria in U.S. government laboratories in Atlanta and are being treated to prevent the infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The scientists were working in a biosecurity lab at the CDC in Atlanta and transferred samples of the bacteria to lower-security facilities not equipped to handle live anthrax, the agency said.
“Based on most of the potential exposure scenarios, the risk of infection is very low,” said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC, in a statement.
Anthrax is an infection caused by the spore-forming bacillus anthracis, typically found in cows and sheep than humans. It can also spread to farm workers or others who are exposed to diseased animals. The bacteria can infect the lungs or digestive tract, though most infections start when the bacterial spore penetrates the skin. It can also be contracted by eating diseased meat, according to the CDC.
People exposed to it are typically treated with antibiotics, including Bayer AG’s Cipro, though the medicine can’t disable the toxins produced by the bacteria.
Anthrax was highlighted as a potential weapon of mass destruction in 2001 when mail laced with the bacteria was sent to media organizations and the offices of some U.S. senators.