Live samples of bubonic plague and two strings of encephalitis were reportedly detected at one of four DOD labs. An investigative report from USA Today found that these bioterror pathogens may have even been shipped by accident to different undetermined locations. Pentagon press secretary, Peter Cook, stammers with answers when confronted with the issue.
“So my understanding of the situation and bubonic plague, I’m not even sure medically speaking or scientifically speaking is the exact substance we’re talking about here. My understanding is that there was a sample at a DOD facility that was — as part of this program, was a form of plague and that it was in — not in a containment area, but in a freezer outside of containment area, but within a controlled setting,” Cook said during a press briefing on Thursday.
Cook went on saying that ongoing investigation has yet to dismiss the possibility that these pathogens were shipped to different locations. “I don’t have a definitive answer for you there. That’s something we hope that this investigation will determine once and for all,” Cook told press.
According to Cook, the controversy arises when CDC inspected a freezer in one facility and found a discrepancy between the pathogens in stored in the freezer and information contained in the facility’s log. Cook said that CDC raised questions about whether or not what was listed in the inventory as noninfectious was, in fact, noninfectious. As for the question whether the live pathogens were again mishandled, just like in the case of the live anthrax samples, Cook said the U.S. Army is still trying to figure out what exactly transpired.
Right now, Pentagon’s greatest concern would be the health and safety of not only those people on site, but the general public, Cook said. He, however, stressed that CDC had expressed no concern about the pathogens being dangerous to people.
“These (CDC) are the professionals — the scientific professionals who understand this much better than — than I do, quite honestly, and that’s been their guidance to me, at this point. And that doesn’t mean we aren’t taking this incredibly seriously,” Cook said.
According to Cook, the problem that lead to the investigation – whether live sample of bubonic plague, encephalitis were mishandled, mislabeled and shipped – arise on Aug. 17, 2015.
On Aug. 28, CDC released a report saying that the bubonic cases are on the rise in U.S. According to the report, since April 1, 2015, a total of 11 cases of human plague have been reported in residents of six states: Arizona (two), California (one), Colorado (four), Georgia (one), New Mexico (two), and Oregon (one). The two cases in Georgia and California residents have been linked to exposures at or near Yosemite National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
“It is unclear why the number of cases in 2015 is higher than usual,” CDC said in its report.
CDC had also confirmed the second case of bubonic plague which originated near Salida. According to a report from The Chafee County Times, Alisha Plescher had contracted the plague after hiking a portion of the Little Rainbow train in the county in the early week of September. Andrea Carlstrom, county health director, noted that “there seems to be a clear common denominator of the Little Rainbow area.”
Meanwhile, an August report from The Guardian said that a Utah man died after contracting the bubonic plague. He is the fourth to have died from the plague this year.