CDC closes two labs following safety lapses
WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has closed two laboratories in Atlanta and stopped sending out infectious agents and other biological materials from its highest-level bio-security labs due to recent safety and security lapses.
The lapses include the accidental exposure of CDC lab personnel to anthrax and the previously unreported shipment of a deadly strain of bird flu to another government lab. No one has been found to have been infected.
The moratorium on the shipment of biological materials will remain in place pending further investigation into the cause of the safety breaches and implementation of new lab safety measures.
“These events serve as a warning that the protocols are not what they need to be to ensure that our laboratories operate safely,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director.
The bird flu incident, which began at the CDC’s influenza laboratory in Atlanta, was discovered May 23 but wasn’t reported to senior CDC officials until Monday. Frieden didn’t hear of the situation until Wednesday.
When asked Friday about the six-week delay in reporting the incident, Frieden said: “I can think of no valid explanation.”
The incident occurred when a culture of relatively safe bird-flu virus was accidentally cross-contaminated with a highly pathogenic strain and then shipped to a Department of Agriculture laboratory in Athens, Georgia. Although no exposures occurred from the mishap, the influenza laboratory has been closed and won’t reopen until new safety procedures are implemented following the investigation.
The bird flu scare came to light after a June incident that potentially exposed some 75 CDC staffers in Atlanta to live anthrax. A new CDC report issued Friday said it was possible but extremely unlikely that affected lab personnel were exposed to the deadly toxin. None have become ill.
Both incidents have shaken the sterling reputation of the CDC as the gold standard in the safe handling, storage and shipment of infectious agents and dangerous pathogens.
“Fundamentally, what they revealed was totally unacceptable behavior,” Frieden said. “These events should never have happened. I’m disappointed by what happened and, frankly, I’m angry about it.”
Staff at CDC who contributed to the incidents or were in a position to prevent them will face disciplinary action following further investigation, Frieden said.