Trace of anthrax found at FCC facility points to cross-contaminated mail

Feb 5, 2002 (CIDRAP News) – Testing has shown that anthrax found in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mail-processing facility in Maryland last week was a tiny amount that probably came from cross-contaminated mail, the FCC announced yesterday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which tested the material, told the FCC that "the trace showed a very slow platelet growth which indicates a weak or very scant amount of anthrax consistent with cross-contamination of mail," the FCC said in a press release.

Mail workers at the facility in Capitol Heights, Md., had been given antibiotics after the contamination was found last week, but because the amount of anthrax was so small, the CDC has recommended that they stop taking the drugs, the FCC reported. The antibiotics are intended for inhalation anthrax and, if continued, "could be harmful in some situations," the agency said.

The FCC said the facility will be decontaminated and retested, and mail deliveries will not be resumed until after that. Mail deliveries had been stopped after the FCC learned of the contamination on Jan 30.

As a routine precaution, the Public Health Service (PHS) tested the FCC facility for contamination on Jan 29. Mail receipt and processing had been moved out of FCC headquarters to the Capitol Heights building after the first anthrax incident on Capitol Hill last fall, officials said.

The PHS reported on Jan 30 that one sample from the building had tested positive for an amount of anthrax that was too small to cause infection. "PHS believed this to be a residual trace amount of material resulting from cross-contamination of mail," but awaited final test results from the CDC, the FCC statement said. The agency stopped mail deliveries to the building and arranged for the mail workers to take antibiotics, and a PHS physician met with FCC staff members Jan 31.

See also:

FCC fact sheet on the contamination incident (Revised Mar 8, 2002)

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