U.S. defense secretary reacts to anthrax scare

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U.S. defense secretary reacts to anthrax scare

American Defense Secretary Ashton Carter apologized during a meeting with his Korean counterpart for the U.S. Army’s mistake in shipping live anthrax to a military base here, the Korean Defense Ministry said Saturday.

The ministry cited Carter as telling Korea’s Han Min-koo on the sidelines of the annual Asia Security Summit in Singapore that the United States would swiftly share the results of its investigation into the case and take appropriate measures on those responsible.

He also pledged action to prevent the reoccurrence of such an error.

In a statement issued Friday evening, the Pentagon said 24 laboratories in 11 U.S. states, as well as Korea and Australia, are believed to have received the suspect anthrax samples.

The scope of the problem suggests extensive flaws in procedures used by the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah that anthrax samples were made fully inert before shipping them to labs. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work ordered a comprehensive review of laboratory procedures associated with inactivating anthrax.

Dugway, in a desolate stretch of the Utah desert, has been testing chemical weapons since it opened in 1942.

Kristen Nordlund, the spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the agency is testing to see which anthrax samples were live. The results are coming in slowly, she said.

The United States Forces Korea (USFK) said the suspected anthrax samples shipped to Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi, 48 kilometers (30 miles) south of Seoul, had been disposed of in an isolated emergency facility at the base.

The 22 people involved in the scientific research using the substances have not contracted the disease, but took antibiotics and vaccines upon hearing the news from the Pentagon just in case.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that the samples showed “very little chances” of infection because they were liquefied when shipped into the country, which is deemed safer than the powdered form.

Anthrax is a rare disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and has been identified by the CDC as the biological agent used in a terrorist attack.

People become infected with anthrax when spores make their way into the body - breathing them in, eating food or drinking water contaminated with spores, or getting spores in a cut or scrape in the skin, according to the CDC.

The disease is not contagious in the same way people might catch the common cold or the flu.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, AP [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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