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Utah State University Professor Says Not To Panic About Anthrax

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Tarbet Said The Anthrax Bacteria Itself Is Not Harmful Until It Is In Spores

Last week reports came out which said the Dugway Proving Ground in Tooele County shipped live anthrax samples to nine different states and a military base in South Korea. One scientist at Utah State University said while this was a mistake on the Department of Defense’s part, it is nothing that should cause panic.

“It is definitely an oversight, in fact a major, major oversight,” said Bret Tarbet, research professor in the Department of Animal Dairy and Vet Sciences at USU. “This is larger than a small mistake.”

Tarbet said anthrax is an infectious agent that can be used for warfare, and the government started putting regulations on it after 9/11. He and his colleagues also handle these kinds of agents at the university, and they are held to a high standard of security.

“We have new finger print scans to get into the room,” Tarbet said. “It’s something you’d almost see from some spy movie to get into those laboratories to even be near those agents, and then the freezers are locked inside of the laboratories. It is just multiple layers of control that are regulating the people that both have access to these and then what we do with them.”

Tarbet said the breach in security should not cause concern for a possible outbreak. He said anthrax is a bacteria that by itself is not dangerous. It only causes problems when it is in the form of spores that enter the body and release the bacteria, which can grow and produce a toxin. He said it is an infectious disease, but it is not contagious, and it would take a large dose to harm a healthy person.

“The worst case scenario, [I] would probably say that the laboratories that they were sent to, the person opening the package would get a huge exposure,” Tarbet said.

However, he said those who may have had contact with the virus — such as the lab workers or delivery people — will probably have started treatment before the anthrax has the chance to harm them, and they are not likely to die from it.