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White House: Anthrax field tests unreliable

White House: Anthrax field tests unreliable

From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House says commercial field tests for anthrax are unreliable and will recommend that authorities nationwide stop using them to detect the deadly bacteria, a senior administration official said Sunday.

The White House plans to issue a memorandum on Monday from its Office of Science and Technology Policy that lists updated guidelines for testing suspected anthrax.

The memo -- which is to be sent to more than 250 federal agencies, local officials and police and fire departments -- calls on those authorities to stop using, buying and relying on commercial anthrax field tests.

The administration is now recommending that material suspected of being anthrax be sent to an FBI lab.

The advisory is based on a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the FBI.

The study found that all commercial tests can miss small amounts of anthrax and falsely detect anthrax when there is none. According to the study, the tests can miss a deadly dose of the bacteria.

The field tests were designed to determine very quickly whether a suspicious white powder could be anthrax, and hundreds of thousands of them were sold during last fall's anthrax scares.

But false results prompted authorities to shut down buildings prematurely and distribute unneeded antibiotics, the memo states.

With a field test, a sample of the suspicious powder is dissolved into a special fluid and run through a device that checks for genetic markers from the bacillus family, which includes anthrax. But the tests also pick up other bacteria in the bacillus family that is not anthrax.

In May, field tests indicated anthrax was present in the mailrooms of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As a result, the IMF gave about 100 people antibiotics and the World Bank shut down the ventilation system for its entire building, sending 1,200 workers home. A second test found anthrax was not present at either location.

The White House advises authorities to send their results to a lab which they say should give initial readings for anthrax within six hours. It also recommends that federal agencies stop routine tests for anthrax in their mailrooms, since most mail is now irradiated.




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