Air sensor detected possible disease agent during war protests

Air sensors near the National Mall detected a possible disease agent last weekend during the Iraq war demonstrations, but health officials said they believe the bacteria was picked up naturally and was not intentionally released.

A low level sample of an airborne form of Tularemia bacterium from Saturday, Sept. 24 began a process of further sampling, which all tested negative, District of Columbia Department of Health Director Gregg Pane said Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted the tests and notified health officials in D.C., Maryland and Virginia on Friday, Pane said.

"I believe they were doing some further due diligence, which is why there wasn't the normal alerting which would have happened right away if this had been an all out positive," Pane said.

Tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever," is natural in the environment but is usually found in places with more animals, health officials said. Symptoms related to Tularemia include sudden fever, chills, muscle aches and pneumonia-like conditions.

The disease is easily treated with antibiotics and is not contagious, Pane said.

State health departments have alerted hospitals and other healthcare facilities to watch out for signs of respiratory infections related to Tularemia. No cases had been reported by Friday night, Pane said.

A single air sensor operated by the Department of Homeland Security showed evidence of the bacteria a week ago, but officials were still working to determine the exact cause. Similar sensors are located throughout the national capital region, Pane said, AP reported.

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