Traces of anthrax found in Lithuania in US embassy mailbags

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http://www.nandotimes.com/world/story/161984p-1540893c.html

Traces of anthrax found in Lithuania in U.S. Embassy mailbags Copyright 2001 AP Online Special coverage of the anthrax threat

By LIUDAS DAPKUS, Associated Press

VILNIUS, Lithuania (November 1, 2001 10:17 a.m. EST) - A laboratory in Lithuania confirmed that traces of anthrax were detected in at least one mailbag from the U.S. Embassy, the first such discovery in Europe.

Kazimiera Rutiene, chief of the microbiology laboratory at the Lithuanian Public Health Center, said Thursday that chemical tests indicated anthrax and that mice injected with the suspect substance on Wednesday had died by Thursday morning. "This is real proof that there were traces of anthrax there," she said at the center in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. She said she was "100 percent" certain that scientists had found anthrax.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Michael Boyle said the embassy mailroom had been sealed with plastic sheets and employees were being offered antibiotics, although none showed symptoms of anthrax. Rutiene said the five bags were delivered to the lab this week as part of worldwide tests of mailbags from all U.S. embassies after anthrax was detected at the U.S. State Department in Washington.

Suspicious material was found in small amounts in the corners of the bag, not inside letters or packages, Rutiene said, adding that results from tests on the four other bags were expected by Friday.Boyle said the diplomatic pouches had come straight from the State Department - appearing to rule out that the contamination could have come from letters sent within Lithuania.

"Common sense leads me to believe that this is part of the same contamination that has been documented at the State Department," Boyle said. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had said Wednesday that preliminary tests showed two of five bags from the Vilnius embassy had shown traces of what appeared to be anthrax.

Public buildings in Vilnius, as well as embassies, were closed Thursday for All Saint's Day. Boyle said the embassy hadn't yet decided whether to stay closed beyond Thursday as a safety precaution. The last known case of anthrax in Lithuania was in 1974, when a farmer fell ill after digging in soil where anthrax-infected cattle were buried. He recovered.

Lithuanian officials said they were dismayed by the latest discovery of the bacteria. "This proves that no place on the planet is safe from the threat of bioterrorism," said the head of the State Security Department, Arvydas Pocius.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), November 01, 2001


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