CDC tips on dealing with suspect mail, anthrax hoaxes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following measures for dealing with suspicious letters and possible anthrax:

Identifying Suspicious Packages and Envelopes

Some characteristics of suspicious packages and envelopes include inappropriate or unusual labeling. Other signs include:

  • Excessive postage
  • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses
  • Misspellings of common words
  • Strange return address or no return address
  • Incorrect titles or title without a name
  • Not addressed to a specific person
  • Marked with restrictions, such as "Personal"

"Confidential," or "Do not x-ray"

  • Marked with any threatening language
  • Postmarked from a city or state that does not match the return address
  • Powdery substance felt through or appearing on the package or envelope
  • Oily stains, discolorations, or odor
  • Lopsided or uneven envelope
  • Excessive packaging material such as masking tape, string, etc.

Handling Suspicious Packages or Envelopes

  • If a package or envelope appears suspicious, DO NOT OPEN IT.
  • Do not shake or empty the contents of a suspicious package or envelope.
  • Do not carry the package or envelope, show it to others, or allow others to examine it.
  • Put the package or envelope on a stable surface; do not sniff, touch, taste, or look closely at it or any contents that may have spilled.
  • Alert others in the area about the suspicious package or envelope. Leave the area, close any doors, and take actions to prevent others from entering the area. If possible, shut off the ventilation system.
  • Wash hands with soap and water to prevent spreading potentially infectious material to face or skin. Seek additional instructions for exposed or potentially exposed persons.
  • If at work, notify a supervisor, a security officer, or a law enforcement official. If at home, contact the local law enforcement agency.
  • If possible, create a list of people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized and a list of people who also may have handled this package or letter. Give the list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.