(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control held a Friday teleconference to discuss three separate incidents involving CDC and National Institute of Health laboratories in recent weeks.
“Fundamentally what [these incidents] reveal is totally unacceptable behavior,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. “These events should never have happened.”
In the first incident, the CDC said that a scientist working in one of the CDC’s bioterror labs, which supplied other, less secure labs, used a process that they thought would kill anthrax bacteria, but may not have. Still, the CDC says that the likelihood of people at other labs being exposed is “very, very unlikely.”
CDC tests say that it is “not impossible but extremely unlikely” that the active infectious anthrax bacteria ever left the CDC lab. Still, “that doesn’t excuse in any way what happened,” Frieden said.
Frieden called a second incident involving the inadvertent cross-contamination of a less dangerous form of animal influenza with the H5N1 avian influenza strain, “the most distressing [of the incidents].” The incident, which just came to light on Friday, took place about six weeks ago, the CDC said. The specimen, later sent to a United State Department of Agriculture lab, was determined to be behaving in unexpected ways before researchers identified the issue.
In response, the CDC is issuing a moratorium on biologic material leaving biosafety level three and four facilities, a director of lab safety was appointed and further investigation will be launched.
The third incident was the most recent, which involved the discovery of smallpox virus at an unapproved lab. All samples will be genetically sequenced and then destroyed, Frieden said.
Frieden cited ongoing health concerns involving MERS, Ebola and chikungunya in saying that the CDC has been “very busy,” saying that being busy is not an excuse. “When something like this happens here, I am deeply concerned about it.”
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