US probes lab workers' possible anthrax exposure - 7News Boston WHDH-TV

US probes lab workers' possible anthrax exposure

Posted: Updated:
ATLANTA (AP) - 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.

  • U.S. & World NewsMore>>

  • Video purports to show beheading of US journalist

    Video purports to show beheading of US journalist

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 2:55 PM EDT2014-09-02 18:55:56 GMT
    The World Food Program says it provided food to a record 4.1 million people inside Syria last month.[more]
    Islamic State extremists released a video posted Tuesday showing the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, and warning President Barack Obama that as long as U.S. airstrikes against the militant group...[more]
  • School starts in Chicago with more safety guards

    School starts in Chicago with more safety guards

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 2:53 PM EDT2014-09-02 18:53:03 GMT
    Chicago children will walk past even more guards on their first day of school than last year, when concerns about safety prompted the city to line the streets with 1,200 adults every day.[more]
    School opened in Chicago on Tuesday, with children and parents making their way past security guards whose bright neon vests served as a reminder of the city's efforts to protect students from the violence that plagues...[more]
  • US family grieving over new beheading video

    US family grieving over new beheading video

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 2:52 PM EDT2014-09-02 18:52:52 GMT
    A family spokesman says relatives of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff are aware of a new video purporting to show his beheading by Islamic State militants.[more]
    A family spokesman says relatives of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff are aware of a new video purporting to show his beheading by Islamic State militants.[more]
  • Stay Connected

  • Like Us on Facebook
  • Follow Us on Twitter
Powered by WorldNow

WHDH TV 7NBC WLVI TV CW56
Sunbeam Television Corp
7 Bulfinch Place
Boston, MA 02114

News Tips: (800) 280-TIPS
Tell Hank: (855) 247-HANK
Corporate Media Services: (800) 642-1551

Can't find something?
Connect with us here:
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WHDH. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.