CDC Report Finds Scientists Played Fast and Loose with Bird Flu

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention probe into the exposure last month of lab workers to anthrax found that its bioterror research laboratories breached security in handling the bird flu virus.


The report traced “the unintentional exposure of personnel to potentially viable anthrax” at the CDC’s Roybal Campus in Atlanta to the use of unapproved sterilization techniques, a lack of standard operating procedure and the transfer of material not confirmed to be inactive. Workers were using a pathogenic B. anthracis “when non-pathogenic strains would have been appropriate for this experiment.”

The CDC while preparing this report, though, they were “made aware that earlier this year a culture of non-pathogenic avian influenza was unintentionally cross-contaminated at the CDC influenza laboratory with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of influenza and shipped to a BSL-3 select-agent laboratory operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

“There were no exposures as a result of that incident. The CDC influenza laboratory is now closed and will not reopen until adequate procedures are put in place. Further investigation, review, and action is underway,” the CDC said in a statement.


“As a result of these two incidents, CDC is issuing, effective immediately, a moratorium on the movement (i.e., transfer inside or outside the agency) of biological materials (i.e., infectious agents, active or inactivated specimens) from BSL3 or BSL-4 facilities. The moratorium will remain in place pending review by an advisory committee.”

The department’s report found that “the critical nature of CDC investigations to detect and respond to naturally occurring and man-made events with select agents while ensuring the safety of staff are paramount and should be guided by the highest standards.”


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