Anthrax found at U.S. Embassy

  • 2001-11-08
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Lithuanian experts have confirmed that, in the first such case in Europe, traces of anthrax were found in a mailbag in the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.

"Following tests, we can say that we found anthrax in one of the five mailbags," said Kazimiera Rutiene, head of the microbiology laboratory of the Lithuanian Public Health Center, on Nov. 1.

She said that mice injected with the suspected substance on Oct. 31 had died the next morning.

Five bags were delivered to the health center earlier this week as part of routine worldwide tests of mail sent to U.S. embassies from the State Department post office, where anthrax spores were found recently.

On Oct. 31, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the embassy's mailroom had been sealed, and that antibiotics would be made available to any embassy employee who wanted them.

Rutiene said that four U.S. Embassy employees had come into direct contact with the infected mailbag. Seven employees are currently taking antibiotics. The embassy's premises were cleared of anthrax by specialists from the Lithuanian Public Health Center on Nov. 5.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus learned of the test result from journalists while visiting the graves of revered Lithuanians at the capital's Rasu Cemetery on All Saints Day Nov. 1.

"There is no reason for an anthrax panic in Lithuania," he responded.

His calm reaction was echoed by others, both in and out of the public eye. "I don't think there is any threat here in Lithuania," Rita Stankeviciute, a commentator for LNK TV news, told The Baltic Times.

Elena Stankeviciute, a hospital nurse, was equally dismissive. "Anthrax hitting the Lithuanian population? No, I'm not afraid of that. It couldn't happen here," she told The Baltic Times.

Samples taken by the Public Health Center from the mailbag will be sent to Washington so that U.S. specialists can compare them with samples found in the United States.

Although U.S. diplomatic mail arrives in Lithuania on regular commercial flights, it is not handled by Lithuanian postal workers since it is picked up by an embassy courier.