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Bioterrorism can often take place through the mail. For all suspicious unlabeled mail notify University Police at 701-777-3591. Do not open the package or envelope!
Suspicious mail is that which is unexpected or from someone you don’t know, is addressed to someone no longer at your address, is handwritten or has no return address, excessive postage, misspelled words, protruding wires, excessive tape or string, strange odor, oily stains, discoloration on wrapper, lopsided or lumpy, or marked with restrictive endorsements (i.e., “CONFIDENTIAL” or “PERSONAL”).
State and local health department officials should be involved in the decision-making process when a potential bioterrorism exposure has occurred. A risk assessment for individuals involved in the incident should be coordinated by law enforcement.
The purpose of the information here is to recommend procedures for handling bioterrorism incidents at home or at work. Decisions about the need for decontamination and/or initiation of antibiotics should be made by health officials responsible for area in which the incident occurs. In most circumstances, the decision of whether to initiate antibiotics can be delayed until the presence or absence of anthrax bacteria or spores is determined by health specialists.
What You Should Know About Anthrax
Anthrax organisms can cause skin infection, gastrointestinal infection or pulmonary infection. To do so, the organism must be rubbed into an open wound in the skin, swallowed, or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. All forms of anthrax are generally treatable with antibiotics, if detected in a timely manner. If the exposure were real, symptoms usually develop within two to six days.
For anthrax to be effective as a biological agent it must be aerosolized into tiny particles smaller than a red blood cell. This is difficult to do, and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. If these small particles are inhaled, life-threatening lung infections can occur, but prompt recognition and treatment are effective.
What To Do if you Encounter a Suspicious Letter or Package
Do not panic!
For those who handle large volumes of mail:
- Wash your hands with warm soap and water before and after handling the mail.
- Do not eat, drink or smoke around mail.
- If you have open cuts or skin lesions on your hands, disposable latex gloves may be appropriate.
- Surgical masks, eye protection or gowns are NOT necessary or recommended.
Suspicious Unopened Letter:
- Place envelope in a plastic bag.
- Wash hands with soap and water.
- Notify your supervisor, who will contact Public Safety who may then notify the police and the FBI.
- If at home, call the police regarding the letter.
Powder Spills Out Of an Envelope:
- Do not clean powder up. Keep others away (including pets, if at home).
- Gently invert a container, such as an empty trash can, over the envelope and powder to avoid dispersal. The district health department and/or law enforcement officials may encourage sample testing to determine the contents of the powder.
- Notify your supervisor who will contact Public Safety who may contact the local health department epidemiologist, the police and the FBI. If you are at home call 9-1-1.
- Avoid the area containing the envelope, but remain on premises and wait for further instructions from your supervisor or emergency responders.
- Anyone who contacted the powder should wash their hands with soap and water immediately.
- Do not brush off your clothes.
- Shut off direct air sources or notify someone who can. This avoids unnecessary dispersal through an air conditioner, central air, fan, etc.
- Make a list of all people who had contact with the powder and a list of your movements after handling the suspicious letter (ex: office cubicle, rest room, elevator, etc.) and give the lists to the emergency responders. Further medical follow-up for you and exposed associates and surface decontamination may be required.
Packages Marked with Threatening Messages Such as "Anthrax"
- Do not open!
- Do not shake or empty the package or envelope.
- Leave it and evacuate the room.
- Notify your supervisor who will contact the University Police. If at home contact the police.
- Avoid the area containing the package but remain on premises and wait for further instructions from your supervisor or emergency responders.
- Wash your hands.
Aerosol Dispersal, Small Explosion or Letter Stating Anthrax is in the Ventilation System
- Leave room immediately and secure entry.
- Notify your supervisor, who will contact the University Police and the FBI.
- Shut down air handling system or contact someone that can.
- Remain on premises until responders arrive to make sure that all potentially exposed individuals are accounted for.
- Make a list of all people who were in your work area at the time of the threat and give the list to the emergency responders. Further medical follow-up may be required for yourself and exposed associates.