CDC Director Closes Flu Laboratory

The closure is one of number of actions detailed in an agency report released about the exposure of personnel at its Roybal Campus to potentially viable anthrax.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a report July 11 about the June incident when personnel at its Roybal Campus were unintentionally exposed to potentially viable anthrax. It lists a number of actions CDC is taking, including establishing a CDC-wide single point of accountability for laboratory safety and closing the CDC influenza laboratory.

"Based on a review of all aspects of the June incident, CDC concluded that while it is not impossible that staff members were exposed to viable B. anthracis, it is extremely unlikely that this occurred. None of the staff who was potentially exposed has become ill with anthrax," according to the agency's release.

It says as the report was being written, CDC's leadership "was made aware that earlier this year a culture of non-pathogenic avian influenza was unintentionally cross-contaminated at the CDC influenza laboratory with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of influenza and shipped to a BSL-3 select-agent laboratory operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There were no exposures as a result of that incident. The CDC influenza laboratory is now closed and will not reopen until adequate procedures are put in place. Further investigation, review, and action is underway. As a result of these two incidents, CDC is issuing, effective immediately, a moratorium on the movement (i.e., transfer inside or outside the agency) of biological materials (i.e., infectious agents, active or inactivated specimens) from BSL3 or BSL-4 facilities. The moratorium will remain in place pending review by an advisory committee."

The report concludes that scientists failed to follow an approved, written study plan that met all laboratory safety requirements, and as a result, dozens of employees were potentially exposed. The report also states there was a lack of standard operating procedures to document when biological agents are properly inactivated in laboratories and a lack of adequate laboratory oversight of scientists performing work in these labs.

CDC has established a high-level working group, reporting to Frieden, to accelerate improvements in laboratory safety and to review and approve, on a laboratory-by-laboratory basis, resumed transfer of biological materials outside of BSL3 and BSL4 laboratories. It also will establish an external advisory group for laboratory safety, with invitations to participate in this group to be issued by July 18. The agency has launched an investigation to determine root causes that led to contamination of another avian influenza virus by the H5N1 virus and has reported the incident through the proper channels to the select agent oversight body, APHIS.

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