Stanford Report Online



Stanford Report, October 23, 2001

Biological threats received by mail

Information prepared by Ellyn Segal, BioSafety Officer, Stanford Environmental Health & Safety, 5-1473

Biological threats can frequently be controlled by screening of materials and by following the procedures listed below. Responding Public Safety agencies have plans in place to deal with these types of threats. Following the procedures below will activate those plans and promote the highest level of safety while minimizing the disruption associated with these incidents.

Facts about Anthrax

Anthrax organisms can cause infection in the skin, gastrointestinal system, or the lungs if rubbed into abraded skin, swallowed, or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. Disease can be prevented after exposure by early treatment with antibiotics. Anthrax is not spread from person to person.

Be observant for mail and packages that are suspicious. Features to look for:

- No return address
- Hand written or poorly-typed address
- Misspelling of common words
- Restrictive markings such as "Confidential," "Personal," etc.
- Excessive weight and/or feel of a powdery or foreign substance, leaking of package

What to do with suspicious unopened letters and packages

1. Do not handle any more than is absolutely necessary.

2. Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious envelope or package.

3. COVER the suspicious item (e.g., use cloth, paper, trash can, etc.) -- place the item in a sealed container to prevent leakage of contents. Do not try to get a better look at the item. Leave it alone.

4. Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door and prevent others from entering.

5. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.

6. What to do next…

• If you are at HOME, report the incident to the police (911)

• If you are at WORK, report the incident to the police (9-911), and notify your Supervisor or a building security official.

7. LIST all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized. Give the list to both the local public health authorities and police for follow-up investigations and advice.

If you opened a letter/package: Double-bag it if possible or contain it in a non-porous container. DO NOT handle the item and DO NOT let anyone else near it.

IF POWDER SPILLS OUT ONTO SURFACE:

1. DO NOT try to clean up the powder. COVER the spilled contents immediately (e.g., use cloth, paper, trash can, etc.) and do not remove this cover!

2. LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, and prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).

3. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.

4. What to do next…

• If you are at HOME, report the incident to the police (911)

• If you are at WORK, report the incident to the police (9-911), notify your Supervisor or a building security official.

5. REMOVE heavily contaminated clothing as soon as possible and place in a plastic bag, or a sealed container. This clothing bag should be given to the emergency responders for proper handling.

6. SHOWER with soap and water as soon as possible. Do Not Use Bleach Or Other Disinfectant On Your Skin.

7. If possible, list all people who were in the room or area, especially those who had actual contact with the powder. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation.

Public Safety responders can evaluate the risk to those in the room at the time of potential exposure as well as any impact on the remainder of the building. Based upon that risk assessment, further emergency measures may be implemented as necessary. If the risk is found to be minimal, other areas of the facility will not be disrupted and any necessary actions to return the area involved to normal activity will begin as soon as possible.