Package sent US to Kenya tests negative for anthrax

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The substance in a package sent from the United States to a doctor in Nairobi, originally reported to contain anthrax spores, has retested negative for the bacteria, the director of the hospital that carried out the initial tests said on Wednesday.

Andrew Stenton, director of Nairobi Hospital, said Kenyan health authorities had informed him Wednesday that the substance had tested negative for anthrax after Nairobi-based experts from the US Centers for Disease Control carried out further tests.

On Tuesday, the regional office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta, Georgia, from where the package had been sent to Kenya, said in a statement that the substance had retested negative for anthrax.

Nairobi Hospital, a private facility where the doctor who received the package has an office, carried out culture and biochemical tests that indicated the suspicious substance carried a strain of anthrax, Stenton said. But he added that the tests can provide false results.

"The tests were indicating it was very much like anthrax," Stenton told The Associated Press. "If it had been positive ... and it had been sent through the post to Kenya, people needed to be alerted to the fact this was a possibility."

Experts from the Atlanta-based CDC attached to the state-run Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi were able to carry out further tests for which the hospital is not equipped, Stenton said.

"There are other bacillus which look a lot like anthrax, and you can make an error on that," he said.

Stenton said there are many different strains of anthrax, and some which have been developed for "war–like purposes" cannot be easily identified.

The FBI statement said it was believed "the tests were conducted on a mildew or fungus." It said the consensus of the microbiologists who retested the sample "was that the letter was not contaminated with anthrax."

On October 18, Kenyan Health Minister Sam Ongeri told reporters the package had tested positive for anthrax spores in smear and stain and culture tests. He said KEMRI was carrying out a third test to establish which strain of anthrax bacteria was involved.

Kenyan health officials were all said to be in meetings on Wednesday and could not be immediately contacted.

The package, which was reported by the recipient to have been damp on arrival and contained cloth samples, arrived in Nairobi October 9 and was opened two days later.

Since it was announced that a piece of mail received in Kenya had tested positive for anthrax spores, health authorities have been handed more than 30 other "suspicious" packages for testing, Dr. Eric Muthiri, Director of Communicable and Infectious Diseases at the Minitry of Health, said. None has tested positive.

Anthrax, a disease of grazing animals, is endemic in the East African nation, which is poor, underdeveloped and largely rural. Kenyans have in the past fallen ill with anthrax after coming into contact with meat or hides contaminated with anthrax spores.