Anthrax Update

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Published 19th November 2001, 1:28pm

Thirty-six items had been tested locally for anthrax as of Monday, 19 November, with all results negative, according to the Public Health Services.

Twenty-nine items were pieces of regular mail, while seven items contained suspicious powder. Most of the items turned over for testing were because of public concern regarding the country of origin, such as some in the Middle East, said Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar.

He outlined the procedure that is followed when an item is turned over to the Royal Cayman Islands Police (RCIP) for testing: “The RCIP organises testing through the Cayman Islands Hospital’s Forensic Laboratory, which then examines the item to determine if any powder is present,” he said. “If so, it is immediately tested for anthrax spores.

“Even if no spores are found, the item is tested for the growth of any organisms. This test takes 14 to 24 hours,” Dr. Kumar continued. “As an extra precaution, regardless of the presence or absence of powder, swabs are taken from the inside and outside of the package or envelope.” If the tests are negative for anthrax, the RCIP returns the envelope or package to its owner.

While he noted that powder substances are also analysed for drugs, he acknowledged that elaborate testing is required to specifically identify the exact nature of the substances. “In general, the laboratory focuses its testing on ruling out anthrax and drugs,” he commented.

Persons who are exposed to powder substances do not need to attend a health facility, but are advised to wait until the RCIP or the Fire Services officials reach the scene and assess the situation. All persons possibly exposed to any item that tests positive for anthrax would be offered antibiotics, Dr. Kumar said.

For more information please contact Public Health Services on 244-2621; the Royal Cayman Islands Police on 949-4222; or the Cayman Islands Postal Services at 949 2474.