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CDC: 75 US government employees may have been exposed to live anthrax

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Arthur Friedlander / Wikimedia Commons

The CDC reports that 75 employees working in federal government labs in Atlanta may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria. The exposures took place because researchers reportedly failed to inactivate the bacteria while they were handling samples, Reuters reports. These samples were then transported to lower-security CDC labs that aren't meant to handle live anthrax. According to The Washington Post, the mishandling of the bacteria and the resulting exposures were discovered on 13 June. Officials are now treating the employees to prevent infection.

Anthrax is a disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium found in animals, such as cows and sheep, that ingest spores while grazing. If left untreated, the infection is often lethal. In 2001, mail laced with live anthrax bacteria was sent to media organizations and US senators. Those attacks resulted in 5 deathsThe "CDC is taking aggressive steps to protect the health of all involved," spokesman Tom Skinner said in a statement, reports NBC. "Based on most of the potential exposure scenarios, the risk of infection is very low."

Update June 20th, 2:45PM: More workers have come forward since yesterday, and the AFP is now reporting that as many as 86 federal employees may have been exposed to live anthrax prior to June 13. When asked about the increase, CDC spokesperson Skinner said that it "may go up more as more come forward." These 11 additional employees will also receive antibiotics to prevent infection.