Valdosta Daily Times

State News

June 19, 2014

CDC lab workers might have been exposed to anthrax

-- — About 75 workers at the 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 revealed Thursday.

Independent experts say it appears to be the largest incident involving anthrax, a potential bioterrorism agent, in a U.S. lab in at least a decade. CDC officials say the risk of infection seems very low, but the employees were being monitored or given antibiotics as a precaution.

“Based on the investigation to date, CDC believes that other CDC staff, family members, and the general public are not at risk of exposure and do not need to take any protective action,” a statement from the agency says.

The problem was discovered last Friday, and some of the anthrax may have become airborne in two labs the previous week, the statement says.

The safety lapse occurred when a high level biosecurity lab was preparing anthrax samples. The samples were to be used at lower security labs researching new ways to detect the germs in environmental samples. The higher security lab used a procedure that did not completely inactivate the bacteria.

Workers in three labs who later came into contact with these potentially infectious samples were not wearing adequate protective gear because they believed the samples had been inactivated.  Procedures in two of the labs may have spread anthrax spores in the air.

Live bacteria were discovered last Friday on materials gathered for disposal. Labs and halls have been tested and decontaminated and will reopen “when safe to operate,” the CDC statement says.  Because proper procedures were not followed, the agency said workers will be disciplined “as necessary.”

“It’s really unfortunate that this happened. It’s unacceptable and we’re going to do everything we can to understand why it happened and what we need to do differently to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.

He said the incident was revealed on Thursday, nearly a week after it was discovered, because the first priority was investigating the extent of the problem and notifying workers.  

“When we learned what had happened we moved as swiftly as possible to contact anyone who was possibly exposed,” he said.

Skinner said he did not know how many employees were taking antibiotics or how they were exposed.

Anthrax infections can occur through skin contact but “if you inhale it and you get it in the lungs, that’s a lot more dangerous,” said Paul Roepe, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University Medical Center. The ability of antibiotics to prevent infection depends on how quickly they are started, he said.

Anthrax created fear in 2001, when five people died and 17 others were sickened from letters containing anthrax spores sent through the mail. The FBI blames the attacks on a lone government scientist, Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide.

Scott J. Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said this appears to be the largest potential anthrax exposure in a lab since then, and he urged the CDC to fully disclose the results of its investigation.

“It’s important to learn what happened there so we can ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. Labs “work on anthrax all the time,” and the CDC’s statement seems to suggest human error, “not a system failure.”

“They’re taking all the necessary steps” for potentially exposed workers, he added.

 

1
Text Only
State News
  • Ga. woman sentenced in child abuse case

    The mother of a 1-year-old boy who was hospitalized with a fractured skull in 2012 has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

    July 29, 2014

  • Kingston’s loss means less clout for Ga.

    For two decades, Rep. Jack Kingston was a congressman who routinely crushed his opponents on election night — winning a new term every other year with vote totals between 63 and 77 percent.

    July 28, 2014

  • salmonella 2 copy.jpg Trial nears for suspects in salmonella case

    Three people accused of scheming to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed nine people, sickened more than 700 and prompted one of the largest food recalls in history are set to go to trial this week in south Georgia.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 2 injured in western Georgia small plane crash

    Fire officials say two people were hospitalized after small plane crash in western Georgia. 

     

    July 27, 2014

  • Nuclear Construction_Rich(1) copy.jpg Promises of easier nuclear construction fall short

    The U.S. nuclear industry has started building its first new plants in decades using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and money and revive the once promising energy source.
    So far, it’s not working.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Battle of Atlanta_Rich copy.jpg Civil War battle sites have a mobile app

    This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta, one of the key conflicts of the Civil War, and researchers at Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship have released a mobile app for the tour.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kingston, Perdue make final pitch in Senate race

    U.S. Senate hopefuls Jack Kingston and David Perdue hit every corner of the state in one final scramble before Georgia Republicans will choose one of them to take on Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn this fall in one of the nation’s most significant midterm election matchups.

    July 22, 2014

  • Senate race zeroes in on metro Atlanta, north Ga.

    Neither Republican running in Georgia’s closely watched Senate race has a natural advantage in metro Atlanta, where the state’s most populous area and a ring of northern exurbs are serving as the key battleground ahead of Tuesday’s runoff.

    July 21, 2014

  • Kingston, Perdue: Teamwork begins after runoff

    Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston have plenty of criticisms for each other as they appeal for votes ahead of Georgia’s Republican Senate primary runoff.

    July 20, 2014

  • Senate-Georgia_Rich copy.jpg Kingston, Perdue offer few details on budget fixes

    Neither Rep. Jack Kingston nor businessman David Perdue has detailed a clear course for changing the nation’s fiscal situation, instead broadly railing against government spending and debt in their campaign for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results