CDC: 75 scientists may be exposed to anthrax

 

As many as 75 scientists may have been accidentally exposed to live anthrax bacteria after failing to follow proper procedures at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab.

The CDC on Thursday said the Atlanta-based staffers are being monitored or provided antibiotics.

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“Out of an abundance of caution, CDC is taking aggressive steps to protect the health of all involved, including protective courses of antibiotics for potentially exposed staff,” said Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman. “Based on most of the potential exposure scenarios, the risk of infection is very low.”

The agency said a preliminary investigation on June 6 found its scientists had taken samples of live anthrax to three low-level biosecurity labs without first killing the bacteria.

CDC workers believing the samples were properly inactivated did not wear adequate personal protective equipment while experimenting on the bacteria.

The labs they were working in were not equipped to handle live anthrax, and between June 6 to 13 two of the labs may have used procedures that spread the spores into the air.

The CDC discovered the mistake on June 13 when plates with the original bacteria gathered to be disposed were found to have live anthrax. The agency immediately locked down the labs and began emergency procedures to track down how far the bacteria had spread.

The CDC said it does not think other staffers, family members and the general public are at risk of exposure. According to the Food and Drug Administration, inhaled anthrax has a mortality rate of 80 percent or higher.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has investigated past reports of safety lapses at the CDC.

On Thursday, committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said in a statement that they had contacted the CDC and were “closely monitoring the situation”

“There is no room for error or negligence when it comes to bioterror research and every precaution must be taken to ensure the safety of our scientists," they said.

The CDC is still conducting an internal investigation to understand why the originating lab did not follow proper procedures.

It has reported the incident to the Federal Select Agent Program, which oversees the possession, use and transfer of hazardous materials such as anthrax.

“Given that CDC expert protocols were not followed, disciplinary action will be taken as necessary, “ said Skinner. “In addition, CDC will review the safety protocol again with all employees who work in this area.” 

This story was updated at 6:05 p.m.