Who Needs Bioterrorists When You Have the CDC?

UPDATE–July 23rd, 2014: Michael Farrell, entering his sixth year as Director of the CDC’s Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Technology Laboratory, has officially resigned in the wake of the anthrax exposure scare.

Original Article: In a bizarre and alarming lapse of what would appear to be standard laboratory safety procedure, the nation’s premier government research facility located in Atlanta suffered a scare when it was revealed that upwards of 80 scientists had been potentially exposed to anthrax, an oft-fatal bacterial disease affecting the skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. For most Americans, the most extensive coverage of anthrax occurred soon after 9/11 when the so-called Amerithrax series of attacks were carried out by Fort Detrick bio-defense scientist, Bruce Ivins. Beginning on September 18th of 2001, and for several weeks following, Ivins mailed letters filled with anthrax spores to various U.S. Senators and media offices around the nation, ultimately killing five and infecting 17 others.

The latest outbreak of anthrax, however, was seemingly due to gross negligence on the part of Center for Disease Control. On June 5th, 2014 at the Roybal Campus in Atlanta, Georgia, a laboratory scientist in the Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology (BRRAT) laboratory “prepared extracts from a panel of eight bacterial select agents, including Bacillus anthracis (B. anthracis), under biosafety level 3 containment conditions.” The anthrax samples, initially assumed to be inactive, were plated on bacterial growth media. 24 hours later, no growth was observed on the sterility plates and the remaining samples were moved to CDC BSL-2 laboratories under the presumption that the samples were sterile. Eight days after the preparation of the media, “unexpected growth was observed on [the anthrax sterility plate]“, indicating that the B. anthracis sample extract was active and infectious while it was transferred to BSL-2 laboratories.

The CDC has shut down the two labs involved, and under questioning regarding the incident, CDC Director Tom Frieden expressed his frustration and astonishment, saying that “These events should never have happened. I’m disappointed, and frankly I’m angry about it.”

So far, no infections occurring from the anthrax have been reported, and “no one potentially exposed to anthrax has shown signs of illness,” CDC officials said.

Mckay, Betsy. “CDC Lab Chief Resigns In Wake of Anthrax Scare.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 23 July 2014. Web. 23 July 2014.

Muskal, Michael. “CDC Outlines 5 Incidents in Which Deadly Pathogens Were Mishandled.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 11 July 2014. Web. 22 July 2014.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Report on the Potential Exposure to Anthrax. N.p., 11 July 2014. Web. 22 July 2014.

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