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Mail Screening

The following guidelines and precautions are provided to address the risks associated with biological agents and the mail. In the interest of everyone's health, safety and security, it is important to understand and follow these recommendations.

Carefully open mail that you believe to be safe and pay attention to the contents. The use of a letter opener is recommended, rather than using your fingers.

  1. If you have any doubt about the safety of a piece of mail, do not open it - plain and simple. Carefully place the suspect mail in a plastic bag, minimize its movement, isolate the bag and call 911.
    • Mail that meets the following criteria should be considered suspect:
    • Unexpected package deliveries.
    • Mail addressed to individuals who are no longer at your address, or to people who never were.
    • Mail without a return address.
    • Mail whose postmark does not match a return address.
    • Mail with restrictive endorsements, such as "For the attention of" or "Personal and Confidential" or "For the addressee only," etc.
    • Mail that is leaking any substance, has a peculiar odor, is oddly shaped or has other obvious abnormalities. DO NOT sniff any envelope or package.
    • Mail with a foreign postmark or foreign postage.
    • Mail with obvious excess postage.
    • Mail with the written hallmarks of a disturbed individual (bizarre writing).
    • Mail from a correctional institution. 
  2. If you encounter a piece of mail that is leaking a powdery substance (Anthrax is typically brownish and resembles very fine cocoa), or if you open a piece of mail and a powdery substance spills out, do the following:
    • DO NOT clean the powder up. Keep others away.
    • WASH hands with soap and water.
    • DO NOT brush off your clothes.
    • NOTIFY 911.
    • REMOVE clothing and place in a plastic bag as soon as possible.
    • DO NOT use bleach or other disinfectant on your skin.
    • MAKE a list of all people who had contact with the powder and have available to give to the official who responds to the scene.
    • DO NOT PANIC.

Anthrax organisms can cause skin infection, gastrointestinal infection or pulmonary infection. To do so, the organism must be rubbed into abraded skin, swallowed, or inhaled as fine, aerosolized mist. It does not leap into one's body. All forms of this disease are generally treatable with antibiotics.

For anthrax to be effective as a covert agent it must be aerosolized into particles between 0.4 and 2/10,000ths of an inch, smaller than a red blood cell. This is very difficult to do, and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. If these small particles are inhaled, life-threatening lung infection can occur, but prompt recognition and treatment are effective.

Anthrax is not communicable. It cannot be transferred from one person to another.

Revised October 3, 2012

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