Dozens of CDC Scientists Possibly Exposed to Anthrax

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Global Security Newswire Staff
June 20, 2014, 9:09 a.m.

Up to 75 re­search­ers face pos­sible in­fec­tion by an­thrax after a labor­at­ory mis­takenly trans­ferred live samples of the agent, the New York Times re­ports.

None of the in­di­vidu­als have yet shown any sign of hav­ing con­trac­ted the dis­ease, and some are re­ceiv­ing treat­ment drugs “out of an abund­ance of cau­tion,” said Thomas Skin­ner, a spokes­man for the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. The pos­sible ex­pos­ures took place between June 6 and June 13, when an ex­per­i­ment­al chem­ic­al pro­ced­ure failed to de­ac­tiv­ate an­thrax bac­teria later trans­ferred out of the CDC Bi­o­ter­ror Rap­id Re­sponse and Ad­vanced Tech­no­logy labor­at­ory, Re­u­ters re­por­ted on Fri­day.

The an­thrax went to three lower-se­cur­ity fa­cil­it­ies at the At­lanta com­plex, where re­search­ers handled the agent without safety equip­ment, the Times re­por­ted. Re­sponse crews launched cleanup ef­forts at the CDC fa­cil­ity and col­lec­ted ma­ter­i­als for ana­lys­is after the in­cid­ent came to light, ac­cord­ing to the health agency.

Site work­ers took nearly a week to dis­cov­er the breach. Paul Meechan, head of the CDC Health and Safety and En­vir­on­ment Of­fice, linked the event to a new chem­ic­al tech­nique in­ten­ded as an al­tern­at­ive to costly ra­di­ation equip­ment for neut­ral­iz­ing the bac­teria.

Per­son­nel as­sumed the chem­ic­al pro­ced­ure had killed the agent after Petri-dish samples showed no sign of re­pro­duc­tion after 24 hours.

“It didn’t work as well as they thought,” Meechan said. Sci­ent­ists found an­thrax grow­ing in the sample plates six days later, as they pre­pared to throw them away.

“CDC con­tin­ues its in­tern­al re­view to de­term­ine why val­id­ated pro­ced­ures were not used by the lab,” the agency said in a Thursday state­ment. “Dis­cip­lin­ary ac­tion[s] will be taken as ne­ces­sary.”

The an­thrax be­longed to the Ames strain, a deadly vari­ety used in the 2001 an­thrax mail­ings. An in­fec­tion by the bac­teria can take weeks or even months to pro­duce vis­ible symp­toms, leav­ing open the pos­sib­il­ity that any in­fec­ted work­er has yet to show signs of the dis­ease.

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