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Anthrax bungle sees more labs receive US shipments than first thought

More laboratories received live anthrax from a US military facility than first thought, including in Australia. A review of how the bacteria is handled has been announced.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that laboratories in Australia and South Korea as well as 11 US states, two more than it

first acknowledged

, received "suspect samples" of live anthrax. It had previously only identified a foreign shipment to a US air base south of Seoul.

The anthrax shipments appear to have come from Dugway Proving Grounds, a Defense Department laboratory in Utah, where the samples were irradiated and supposedly rendered "dead."

On Friday, a private firm in Maryland notified authorities that its sample was still active. As a result there was a review of all material sent out to other labs.

The 17 other laboratories, including one at the US Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, received samples from the same batch and were therefore likely to also be live, the Pentagon and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said.

Anthrax is an acute bacterial disease which mainly affects animals and is usually fatal. It is not contagious but can be transmitted through contact or consumption of infected meat. Airborne anthrax can be deadly if inhaled.

Risk

"There is no known risk to the general public and an extremely low risk to lab workers," the Pentagon said in a statement. However, a sweeping review of practices meant to inactivate the bacteria has been announced.

The Pentagon advised all laboratories on Friday to stop working with any "inactive" samples sent from the Defense Department.

Irradiation of the batch was carried out in March 2014 and the samples were not sent to private laboratories until April 2015, the Pentagon said.

Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics is to lead the Pentagon's review. It includes an examination of procedures for inactivating anthrax.

The CDC has already begun an investigation.

jm/jr (Reuters, AFP)

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