Biosafety lapses prompt US CDC to shut labs and launch review

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 14 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4615
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

A spate of safety breaches in its laboratories that handle deadly pathogens has prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to halt work in two laboratories and launch an organization-wide review of its biosafety practices, the CDC director, Tom Frieden, announced on 11 July.

“These events should never have happened,” Frieden said in a teleconference with reporters. “I’m disappointed by what happened, and frankly, I’m angry about it.”

In one incident, 67 CDC staff were potentially exposed to Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, when a protein extract from an anthrax sample was transferred from the CDC’s Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology biosafety level (BSL) 3 laboratory to a BSL 2 laboratory without assuring that the extract did not contain viable cells and spores. The method for sterilizing the material before transfer was sufficient to inactivate vegetative cells but not the hardier anthrax spores, the CDC said.

A review of the incident also released on 11 July determined that it was “not impossible” but “extremely unlikely” that staff had been exposed, the CDC said, and so far none had become …

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