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Anthrax strain identified in Chile letter

Questions raised about contamination source

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The strain of anthrax found in samples from a letter sent to Chile is not the same strain that has been identified in contaminated mail in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

"This is a strain that's indistinguishable from strains that have been identified in other countries around the world as being naturally occurring," said Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman.

But Skinner said there are questions being raised about exactly how the letter in Chile was contaminated.

Conn. anthrax death may be linked to letters 

He said there is a theory that the samples from the letter were contaminated in the lab in Chile that first tested the powder. That lab, he said, has worked with anthrax and has samples on hand, and the CDC and Chilean officials are working to find out if the samples from the letter were accidentally contaminated there.

"We're going to continue to work with the Ministry of Health in Chile to try to determine if this contamination occurred in a laboratory or elsewhere," Skinner said.

He said the CDC is still hoping to get the letter itself for further testing.

Last Friday, the CDC announced that samples of the powder in the Chile letter had tested positive for anthrax, making it the first letter outside the United States to be confirmed to contain the deadly bacteria.

The letter was sent to Dr. Antonio Banfi at the Calvo Mackenna children's hospital in Santiago in mid-November. When he opened the letter, the health ministry said, a white powdery substance spilled out. Twelve other people were nearby when the letter was opened. The doctor and the others exposed have been placed on the antibiotic Cipro, and none of them have tested positive for anthrax, the ministry said.

The health ministry said the letter was postmarked Zurich, Switzerland, but had a return address in Florida.


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