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World/National News

July 12, 2014

Anthrax scare reveals more CDC lab safety problems

NEW YORK (AP) — Citing an anthrax scare and other safety problems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said it shut down two research labs and stopped shipping highly dangerous germs to other labs.

An incident at one of the closed Atlanta labs could have accidentally exposed workers in three labs to anthrax last month. A second, previously undisclosed problem earlier this year involved deadly bird flu.

The CDC also released a report that detailed three other incidents in the past decade in which mistakes or other problems caused potentially dangerous germs to be sent out. No lab worker or member of the public was sickened in any of the incidents, the CDC said.

The federal agency operates some of the world’s most advanced and most secure laboratories for the handling of deadly germs, and has enjoyed a reputation as a role model for that kind of work. During a press conference Friday, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said he was upset by the carelessness.

“I’m just astonished that this could have happened here,” he said.

Frieden said internal and outside panels will investigate both recent problems and review safety procedures for handling dangerous germs.

Friday’s disclosures came days after the government revealed that 60-year-old vials of smallpox virus had been forgotten in a lab building at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

Frieden said Friday that tests show that two of the six vials had live virus. More testing is going on, but all the samples are to be destroyed. No infections have been reported in that incident, either.

Smallpox was one of the most lethal diseases until a vaccine was developed. It was declared eradicated in the 1980s, and all known live virus is stored at CDC headquarters in Atlanta or in Russia.

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