Return to Sender: The Biosafety of Unknowingly Shipping Live Anthrax

The NY Post front page during the 2001 anthrax attacks

The NY Post front page during the 2001 anthrax attacks

A couple of things to note regarding the mistaken shipment of live anthrax spores from Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah:

  • The biggest concern, to me, is that there was a failure to know what was being shipped. Live anthrax spores can be shipped, but must be done in a proper fashion to prevent package damage as well as to assure that those who receive it are prepared (e.g. vaccinated, appropriate lab setting)
  • Why did irradiation fail in this setting?

I don't believe anyone will be sickened by this lapse (those exposed who were not vaccinated are received post-exposure prophylaxis) but it is concerning chiefly because there clearly is a biosafety problem that remains at the nation's labs and each lapse, when it is splashed across the front pages, alarms the public who understandably may begin to question what is very vital research.  

Meticulous biosafety at government labs tasked with doing such important research is essential given that the FBI's (somewhat disputed) conclusions regarding the source of the anthrax employed during the Amerithrax attacks (see an interesting new twist on this here).