White powder leads to false anthrax alarm in Italy

A suspicious white powder at found in a package Italy's labor ministry this week led to fears of possible anthrax contamination before the substance was determined to be harmless.

Seven people were taken to the hospital for precautionary measures to be checked out for anthrax symptoms. A spokesman for the labor ministry confirmed the package was a false alarm following inspections by officials at the central Rome offices, Reuters reports.

During Italy's economic crisis, several activists engaged in violent protests, including the use of firecrackers and paint bombs. Tax collection agencies were one of the top targets of the mostly symbolic attacks, according to Reuters.

In December, three suspicious envelopes were intercepted by Italian police, including one meant for Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. The other two letters were sent to the headquarters of Equitalia and the Milan stock market, AGI reports.

The powder was determined to be a sugar-like substance and not anthrax or anything harmful. Eleven people who came into contact with the letters were sent to the hospital for additional checks.

At least 26 cases of anthrax occurred in livestock in Italy in September and October in four towns southeast of Naples, Bloomberg reports.

Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis spores, which can live in soil for years following an outbreak. Livestock can become infected by ingesting spores from feed or the soil.