Report any suspicious mail or packages immediately to the Queen's Emergency Report Center @ 533-6111. 

You should be suspicious of mail with any of the following traits:

  •  unusual thickness, weight or size.,
  • "cut and paste" lettering, improvised labels, or obviously disguised script.
  • unusual odors, powder adhering to the envelope or package, or oily/greasy stains. 
  • the feeling of springiness, metallic components or stiffeners in letters. 
  • excessive postage. 
  • small holes, protruding wire, string or metal foil. 
  • excessive wrapping, binding or tying materials. 
  • unbalanced or lopsided letters or parcels, or letters that appear to have something other than folded paper inside. 
  • undecipherable or no return address / incorrectly or inappropriately addressed mail. 
  • Recipients can also be on the lookout for unusual or unexpected point of origin, unusually restrictive markings such as "personal", "to be opened only by", "fragile", "rush" or "do not delay delivery" or inaccuracies in the address or title of the recipient.

Anyone who opens mail should be alert for unusual packages, especially ones with dust or powder on them. If such a package or letter is discovered - do not handle it. Contact the Emergency Report Center immediately (613-533-6111) and follow these instructions:

  • If possible, have the building ventilation turned off and turn off any fans in the area.
  • Make sure that damaged or suspicious packages are isolated and the immediate areas are cordoned off. If practical, place the mail in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage. Do not move the package out of the room.
  • Vacate the area immediately and ensure no one else enters it.
  • Ensure that all persons who have touched the mail piece wash their hands with soap and water
  • List all persons who have touched the letter and/or envelope. Include contact information and provide it to Queen's Security and EH&S when they arrive. 

If you have opened a suspicious package or letter and observe powder or powder has spilled onto a surface:

  • Do not clean up or otherwise disturb the powder.
  • Cover the container or package if possible
  • Do not move or show the contents to other people.
  • Move away from the immediate threat (i.e. room) but stay in the area.
  • Emergency responders will advise you of the most effective way to decontaminate your person, clothing and the area when they arrive, as well as any medical treatment if required.
  • Follow additional instructions in list above (i.e. vacate area, contact Emergency Report Center, etc)

Canada Post Website - "Security of the Mail"

Information about Anthrax

The Threat

To date, only the United States has been a target of anthrax attacks. These attacks have not been conclusively linked to the terrorist attacks on September 11. Typically, these attacks have been in the form of infected mail sent to media and government institutions. Universities have not been targeted. As of October 25, three people have died from anthrax, 13 have been infected and successfully treated and 28 others have been exposed but not infected. To put this into perspective, in the U.S., over 20,000 people die every year from the flu. There have been no reported cases of anthrax contaminated mail in Canada, although there have been about 70 false alarms or hoaxes reported across the country. Consequently, at this time, the threat of anyone at Queen's University receiving contaminated mail is virtually zero.


Other Ontario universities have reported a number of false alarms and hoaxes. Since the anthrax infected mail in the U.S. has been associated with a white dust or powder, drywall dust, house dust, sugar and baby or talcum powder spills have all been reported to campus authorities as possible anthrax cases. At one university, a student sealed an envelope, wrote "anthrax" on it and slipped it under another student's door in residence. When the Police, Fire department and Hazmat (hazardous materials) Teams arrived, the student confessed what he had done and is now awaiting criminal charges. At Queen's, the only anthrax related incident to date was a chain e-mail that was sent to some campus recipients titled "Anne Thrax". The e-mail said that the recipient was contaminated and must send the e-mail to 10 other people to be decontaminated. Of course, it is impossible to pass anthrax via e-mail.

About the Disease

Anthrax is the oldest known disease in the world and is naturally occurring in the soil. The disease is caused by the Bacillus anthacis bacteria, which is transmitted by spores. These spores are exceptionally hardy, allowing them to survive for centuries. This hardiness also makes them suitable for biological warfare as they are not destroyed by heat, cold, sunlight or water like other biological agents.

The disease can be contracted in three forms: cutaneous, gastrointestinal and inhalation anthrax . It is not contagious in any other manner.

Cutaneous anthrax occurs when the spores enter a cut, scrape or sore in the skin. The disease initially manifests as a dark, itchy bump, like an insect bump. It then develops into an open sore with a black center. The disease can be successfully treated with antimicrobial drugs. Untreated, death may occur in about 20% of cases.

Gastrointestinal anthrax occurs when the spores are ingested. The symptoms are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. The disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. If untreated, this form of anthrax may result in death in 20 to 60% of cases.

Inhalation anthrax occurs when the spores are inhaled. It takes inhalation of approximately 5,000 to 10,000 spores to infect a healthy adult. Flu like symptoms (aches, fever, fatigue, coughs, mild chest pain) develop soon after infection. If the condition is not treated with antibiotics within the first few hours, death is likely to occur within three days.

Health Canada Website - "Fact Sheet: Anthrax"

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Page last update: 01 November 2006

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