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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Area law, health officials say don't panic over anthrax threat

Monday, October 22, 2001

SIKESTON -- With reports of anthrax exposure arriving in mail rooms in Nevada, Florida and the nation's capital, law enforcement is now taking a better safe than sorry approach, although most feel an attack will not occur here.

The threat of anthrax exposure has many people across the country giving second looks at their mail and many post offices and businesses are changing the way they handle mail. Post offices locally and across the country now use gloves and masks when handling the mail and some business are also requiring their employees who handle the mail to wear gloves.

While the Sikeston Department of Public Safety has received a few calls of suspicious mail, there does not appear to be any threat in the area, which is common across the state and country.

"There have been no anthrax cases in Missouri, and we have found no evidence of anthrax being sent in the mail or used as a weapon," Dr. Maureen Dempsey, director of the State Department of Health said in a released statement. "While we encourage people to continue to be alert, I urge them not to panic.

"Actual anthrax cases across the nation, while well publicized, have been extremely rare compared to the number of reports being investigated."

According to the United States Postal Service, approximately 208 billion pieces of mail are delivered each year and presently there has only been two confirmed incidents of anthrax bacteria being sent through the mail.

While the threat is unlikely to occur here, DPS has set guidelines of how to handle suspicious mail and how the public should handle it.

"Be conscience of your mail," said Lt. Ken Dicus, of the Sikeston DPS. "Don't just rip it open. Look at who it is from and look at the return address."

Dicus said if a piece of mail looks suspicious the envelope should be felt to see if any powdery substance can be felt inside. He also suggested one end of the envelope on the table and if any powder is in the envelope, it will fall to that end.

According to the United States Postal Service, some typical characteristics that might trigger suspicion include letters or parcels that have any powdery substance on the outside, unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you, outdated or addressed to someone no longer with your organization, have no return address, are of unusual weight or size or are marked with things like "personal" or "confidential."

"If you think you have something that might be contaminated, don't open," Dicus said. "Place it in a Ziploc bag and seal it."

Once the envelope is put into a sealed bag, Dicus said to make sure to put it in a safe place away from children and animals, then call law enforcement. He said an officer will be sent to retrieve the item.

"Officers will then transport the item to a location with (hazardous materials) capabilities and it will be destroyed," Dicus said. "In the case of very, very suspicious instances, the FBI will be called in."

If a letter is opened and is feared to be contaminated, Dicus said the Hazardous Materials unit will be called in. "We don't want to take a chance with our personnel," Dicus said. "They have to come back and do this tomorrow and the day after that."

Dicus said everyone should remain calm while the anthrax scare is going on and not overreact. "From what I've read and seen, I don't think there have been any cases in this area and there is no reason for us to expect anything," Dicus said. "But everyone just needs to take precautions and pay attention."