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Anthrax Scare Exposes Other Mistakes, Closes 2 Labs

Jul 12, 2014 02:24 PM EDT

Negligence at a CDC lab that exposed more than 80 federal employees to a live strain of deadly anthrax last month prompted an investigation that has revealed even more mistakes and dangerous incidents. In response, the federal agency has shut down two of its research labs and halted the shipment of lab samples.

The United States Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report today concluding an extended investigation into an anthrax exposure incident that was initially reported last June.

According to the report, more than 80 staff members at a CDC facility in Atlanta potentially made contact with live strains of B. anthracis (anthrax) that were supposed to have been "deactivated" prior to being shipped to a less controlled setting.

While testing and observation has revealed that all potential exposures did not result in infection, the CDC did drop the head of its Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory after it was discovered that the Atlanta facility had not followed proper protocol.

While filing this report, CDC investigators were made aware of an additional exposure case which occurred 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)," the CDC reported in an official statement.

Following this discovery, the CDC closed both laboratories involved and launched a new internal investigation. The report also draws comparisons with three other cases of accidental exposures that occurred within the last decade. Thankfully, no infections or outbreaks were linked to any of these cases.

"As a result of these two incidents, CDC is issuing, effective immediately, a moratorium on the movement of biological materials," the agency reported. " The moratorium will remain in place pending review by an advisory committee."

The CDC is now taking efforts to tighten security, but some experts fear that the public will not take this news lightly.

"I fear a backlash against this research that I consider very, very vital," Amesh Adalja, a biosecurity experts from the University of Pittsburgh told the Associated Press.

Still, other epidemiologists are skeptical that handling live and dangerous germs is the best way to further science. According to a pair of experts commenting on Spanish flu experimentation conducted this year, the gains are simply not worth the risks.

The CDC Directors issued their statements on July 11.

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