The Pentagon might have accidentally shipped some bubonic plague


Shipping wrongly stored and potentially infectious plague bacteria: it happens! Or at least, it may have happened at some of “[t]he Pentagon’s most secure laboratories.”

Nine labs run by the the Pentagon are under what USA Today describes as an “emergency ban on research on all bioterror pathogens” after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noticed subpar practices during inspections they performed in August. The CDC’s concerns include bad practices around shipping samples of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that cause bubonic plague (which affects the lymph nodes) and pneumonic plague (the lungs).

The CDC was concerned because the bacteria, which are supposed to be shipped either weakened or dead, were mislabeled and may in fact have been alive.


The ban went into place last week, on September 2, but when it was announced the Army failed to note the CDC’s concerns about plague bacteria and two potentially deadly encephalitis viruses. Instead the announcement traced the ban to news that broke in May of a decade of improper shipping and mishandling of live anthrax by an Army lab in Utah. Today, though, an army spokesperson told USA Today that the concerns about plague bacteria and the viruses “directly contributed to [Secretary of the Army John] McHugh’s ordering of the moratorium.”

Per CNN, Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook said in a briefing that the CDC determined that “there is no risk to the health of workers or the public.” But they’re also still investigating. Cook also described a little bit about how the investigation is progressing:

One of the things they’re doing right now is trying to assess whether any of these substances, first of all, pose any sort of threat; second of all, whether these substances were shipped to any other laboratories

The major takeaway: Just be careful if you get any weird packages from military labs, okay?

Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at [email protected]

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