Pentagon officials said Wednesday that it now believes 51 laboratories in 17 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries might have received samples of live anthrax.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work told reporters that the Pentagon would update the numbers daily until the investigation is complete and also said the number of laboratories that received the samples may rise.
The exposure occurred after a U.S. Army facility near Salt Lake City, Utah, Dugway Proving Ground, accidentally shipped a live batch of Anthrax. The facility irradiated, or "killed," the samples before shipping them to commercial and government labs, but the procedure apparently did not work.
Work said there were no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection among any workers in any of the labs that had received these samples. Any worker that might have had a risk of exposure is being closely monitored.
Navy Cdr. Franca Jones, the chief of medical programs for chemical and biological defense, said there is "zero" threat to the public and the commercial shippers from the samples.
The samples were in liquid form rather than dry form. Work said people can be more easily infected by the dry form.
Work has already ordered a review of all Defense Department (DoD) laboratory procedures. The Pentagon will examine why the samples were not completely irradiated and why a sterility test meant to detect the presence of live anthrax in the samples failed to do so. Officials will also review all existing biohazard safety procedures and protocols for DoD laboratories as well as systematic problems that must be corrected.
Separately, the Pentagon is conducting on-site investigations of DoD labs that is expected to conclude by the end of June.
"This is not going to be a 9-to-5 endeavor. We are going after it as fast as we can," Work said.
He also said there was "absolutely no indication" that the live samples were shipped deliberately.
A website devoted to the laboratory review says the states that received live anthrax samples include California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, as well as District of Columbia. South Korea, Canada and Australia also received shipments.
Eight non-DoD citizens and 23 DoD employees are being treated with post-exposure prophylaxis.