CDC: Anthrax Probe Reveals Another Lab Safety Lapse

Jul 11, 2014

Credit CDC

In the process of completing and releasing a report on how at least 80 employees were potentially exposed to Anthrax, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered another safety lapse that had previously gone unreported.

According to an internal report released Friday, the CDC says a dangerous strain of avian flu was inadvertently cross-contaminated with a less-harmful strain in the agency’s Influenza Lab back. Unaware of the contamination, the CDC scientists shipped the sample to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA researchers discovered the error and reported it to the CDC, but CDC Director Tom Frieden said the incident went unreported for six weeks, adding he'd only learned about it "48 hours ago." 

Frieden said there were no exposures as a result of the incident, but an investigation is ongoing.

He said the two incidents, along with the discovery earlier this week of old small pox vials, raise “serious and troubling questions.”

“They’re really events that serve as a warning that the protocols are not what they need to be to ensure that our laboratories operate safely.”

In response to both incidents, the CDC’s highest security labs are barred from sending out biological samples until improved safety measures are put in place. The labs in which the two incidents occurred have also been closed.

Frieden said reviews on how the CDC can improve lab safety are underway.

He said disciplinary action will be taken for any employee who ignored safety protocols or who knew about the incidents but didn’t promptly report them.