BRUNSWICK — A Brunswick man and a staffer at Mid Coast Hospital were quarantined for several hours on Thursday after the man said he had been exposed to the bacterial contagion anthrax.

But after a battery of tests at the man’s home, in his car and at the hospital, no traces of the biological agent could be found, and police determined that the report was likely the result of mental health problems the 44-year-old man was experiencing.

“I wouldn’t call it a hoax, because I don’t think the person had enough awareness to form a plan,” said Brunswick Police Commander Mark Waltz. “I think it’s a product of the person’s mental illness.”

The unidentified man brought himself to the hospital around 10:40 a.m. and was seen by a triage staffer before he was quickly escorted into a decontamination area, said Judy Kelsh, director of marketing and communications for the hospital.

Waltz said the man is known to police, and that no charges are likely to result, as the man did not cause the emergency response intentionally. State law makes it a Class C felony to intentionally make a threat that causes an evacuation or lockdown.

Kelsh said the hospital followed emergency protocols, and that the incident was treated as a scare. Personnel from the Brunswick police and fire departments, as well as the Maine Center for Disease Control also responded to the incident.

“We are not on lockdown, but we are taking precautions to avoid potential exposure to other patients and staff including isolation and rerouting as needed,” Kelsh said. “We believe this is an isolated incident and no patients, visitors, or staff are in danger.”

By 4:30 p.m., it was determined that there were no anthrax spores present in or around the patient, and there was no risk to others, Kelsh wrote in a subsequent email.

Anthrax is a serious bacterial infection that can be found in livestock. It’s uncommon for humans to be infected by anthrax in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

People get infected with anthrax when spores enter the body. When they become active, the bacteria can multiply, spread out in the body, produce toxins and cause severe illness. This can happen when people breathe in spores, eat food or drink water that is contaminated with spores, or when spores get into a cut or scrape in the skin.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention was doing further testing along with the Maine National Guard’s Civil Support Team out of Waterville, said Brunswick police Cmdr. Tom Garrepy. The Maine Emergency Management Agency and Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency were notified as well.

Brunswick Deputy Fire Chief Don Koslosky said firefighters tested the man’s Brunswick residence and his vehicle in the hospital’s parking lot for anthrax.

“Everything we’ve tested has come back negative,” he said.

There have been scares resulting from weaponized anthrax, including in 2001 when five people died after handling contaminated mail that had been sent to government offices.

Kelsh said the hospital has used its decontamination facilities before during an exposure risk to biochemicals, but such use is infrequent.

“We do drills for these types of exposures on a regular basis to ensure that safety protocols are followed,” she said.

Press Herald Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.


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