CDC outlines five incidents in which deadly pathogens were mishandled

July 14, 2014

Dangerous germs, including anthrax, botulism and a strain of bird flu, were improperly sent among government laboratories in five incidents during the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said it had closed two labs and had imposed a moratorium on shipping deadly pathogens.

The announcement of the previously undisclosed incidents comes days after the CDC said scientists had discovered six vials of the smallpox virus in an unused storage room at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.

No member of the public nor any of the workers in the government laboratories were affected by the five incidents, according to Benjamin N. Haynes, senior press officer for the CDC's infectious disease team.

In a conference call with reporters, CDC director Tom Frieden said he was angry about the lapses.

"These events should never have happened," Frieden told reporters. The American people "may be wondering whether we're doing what we need to do to keep them safe and to keep our workers safe.

"I'm disappointed, and frankly I'm angry about it."

The Atlanta-based CDC is one of the government's top health and research agencies. It handles some of the most advanced work in laboratories that require stringent precautions in the handling of killer pathogens. Friday'sreport outlines problemsgoing back to 2006.

Last month, the agency announced there had been a problem at its main Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology anthrax lab at the Roybal Campus in Atlanta and dozens of workers could have been exposed. The agency investigated, and its report examining that incident and outlining four others was released Friday.

According to the report, the main problems in June included in the use of unapproved sterilization techniques during the transfer of some samples. Workers failed to ensure that the anthrax was inactive before transfer and failed to follow standard operating procedures to inactivate the virus.

That Roybal Campus lab has been closed since June 16, the CDC said, and the facility will remain shuttered until corrective actions are taken. Those include "appropriate personnel actions" against those involved in the incident and a full review on how the agents are shipped around the country. Major government research facilities in Atlanta and Colorado are among those affected by the moratorium on shipping.

A second lab was closed after a sample of flu virus was contaminated by a deadly strain of H5N1 . The contaminated sample was sent from an Atlanta CDC lab to another government lab in Georgia.

The mistaken shipment took place on March 13, but was not discovered for weeks. It was reported to top officials this week and was included in the current report. There were no apparent safety problems after the shipment, the CDC said, but noted "unacceptable delays in reporting of the inadvertent shipment."

The report also outlined three other questionable shipping incidents, including two in 2006. One 2006 incident involved the shipment of anthrax DNA that was thought to be inactive, but turned out to be viable. The other incident that year involved the botulism bacteria, which was shipped live from a CDC lab to an undisclosed facility. Botulism generally produces a nerve toxin that can cause muscle weakness and can kill if it spread to the respiratory system.

The fifth incident in 2009 involved the shipment of a strain of Brucella, which can cause a contagious bacterial infection called brucellosis. The shipment was incorrectly thought at the time to be a vaccine, the report said.

The release of the CDC report comes days after government officials discovered vials of smallpox that appear to date from the 1950s. The vials were flown the CDC from Maryland for testing.

Frieden said that two of six vials have shown growth, so they seem to be viable, and that it could take weeks to determine the status of the other vials. All will be destroyed, he said.

The vials, dated Feb. 10, 1954, were discovered as Food and Drug Administration scientists prepared to move their lab from the NIH campus to the FDA's main facility.

Explore further: US govt lab mixed up potent flu strain

Related Stories

US govt lab mixed up potent flu strain

July 11, 2014
A US government laboratory mistakenly mixed a common flu strain with a dangerous and deadly type of bird flu and shipped it to another lab, authorities said Friday.

CDC issues tough report on anthrax scare

July 12, 2014
(HealthDay)—U.S. health officials have concluded that it's highly unlikely any lab workers were exposed to live anthrax during a safety mishap last month.

No sign of anthrax illness after CDC lab incident

June 30, 2014
Officials say there are no signs anyone got sick from anthrax after a lab safety problem at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Old vials of smallpox found in US storage room (Update)

July 8, 2014
U.S. government workers cleaning out an old storage room at a research center near Washington made a startling discovery last week—decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.

Dozens of US workers taking anti-anthrax drugs

June 20, 2014
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 52 workers are taking antibiotics as a precaution because of a lab safety problem that may have accidentally exposed them to anthrax.

US probes lab workers' possible anthrax exposure (Update)

June 19, 2014
Some workers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have been accidentally exposed to dangerous anthrax bacteria this month because of a safety problem at some of its labs in Atlanta, the federal agency ...

Recommended for you

Google searches can be used to track dengue in underdeveloped countries

July 20, 2017
An analytical tool that combines Google search data with government-provided clinical data can quickly and accurately track dengue fever in less-developed countries, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

New test distinguishes Zika from similar viral infections

July 18, 2017
A new test is the best-to-date in differentiating Zika virus infections from infections caused by similar viruses. The antibody-based assay, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Humabs BioMed, a private biotechnology ...

'Superbugs' study reveals complex picture of E. coli bloodstream infections

July 18, 2017
The first large-scale genetic study of Escherichia coli (E. coli) cultured from patients with bloodstream infections in England showed that drug resistant 'superbugs' are not always out-competing other strains. Research by ...

Ebola virus can persist in monkeys that survived disease, even after symptoms disappear

July 17, 2017
Ebola virus infection can be detected in rhesus monkeys that survive the disease and no longer show symptoms, according to research published by Army scientists in today's online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology. ...

Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.