A few days ago, word got out that 6 vials of variola, the virus that causes smallpox, were found in a cold storage room that is owned by the Food and Drug Administration on the NIH’s Bethesda campus.
That research building was not equipped or approved for storage of deadly pathogens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition to the 6 vials that were labeled variola, ten unmarked vials were found…and so far, no one has addressed what those vials may contain, or if they are even being tested.
Yesterday, the CDC announced that at least two of the vials contain viable samples of the deadly smallpox virus.
CDC Director Tom Frieden said his scientists worked through the night on the samples as soon as they got them. Testing confirmed that there was variola DNA in the vials.
Additional test results showed “evidence of growth” in samples from two of the vials, suggesting that the smallpox virus is alive.
The other four vials still need to be tested for evidence of growth, Frieden said Friday. After their investigation is complete, the CDC will destroy the vials and all the growth that came out of them. The World Health Organization will oversee that destruction.
Frieden said that the NIH is currently inspecting their buildings to ensure that there are no other surprise pathogens sitting around in unused storage rooms.
And it only gets worse…now two other lab breaches have been revealed.
From the 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.
Sometime between June 6 – 13, more than 80 scientists from the CDC may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after potentially infectious samples were sent to laboratories unequipped to handle dangerous pathogens.
From the NY Times:
The agency was testing a new way to kill anthrax, which it discovered did not work as well as expected.
Workers in three labs who were not wearing protective gear moved and experimented with samples of the highly infectious bacteria that were supposed to have been deactivated, the agency said.
It added in a statement that procedures used in two of those laboratories in Atlanta, where the C.D.C. is based, may have “aerosolized the spores,” essentially blowing the bacteria into the air. The exposure was discovered June 13, when the bacterial plates were collected for disposal and live B. anthracis colonies, or anthrax bacteria, were found.
According to a CDC report, a scientist used the dangerous anthrax strain called Ames, even though a safer one would have sufficed. Research is typically conducted with the far safer Sterne strain, which can infect but does not keep reproducing.
The report also said that scientist had not read relevant studies and used an unapproved chemical killing method.
Freiden said the lab didn’t have safety plans in place, and “the scientists failed to follow a scientifically derived and reviewed protocol that would have assured the anthrax was deactivated. It should have happened, and it didn’t.”
The inhaled form of anthrax is the most dangerous, with a fatality rate around 75%.
All of the exposed employees were offered antibiotics and a five-shot series of vaccines as a precautionary measure. The agency said the likelihood of infection was very small.
Dr. Amesh Adalja of the UPMC Center for Health Security told NBC News that anthrax remains No. 1 on the list of potential terrorist agents, because it is deadly when breathed in, relatively easy to make into a powder and, compared to other agents, fairly simple to obtain. “It is a category A agent. It’s tried and true, and it’s easy to disseminate.”
The anthrax investigation revealed another disturbing problem, this one involving a deadly flu strain.
Investigators found another troubling case that involved a dangerous transfer of material. This happened six weeks ago. But what’s “most distressing,” according to Frieden, is that he had found out about it “less than 48 hours ago.”
In this case, a culture of nonpathogenic avian influenza, meaning a type of the flu that is not that dangerous, was unintentionally cross-contaminated with a potentially deadly kind of flu — the highly pathogenic H5N1. This strain has killed millions of birds and infected over 600 people over the last decade.
In the case of this contamination, the CDC says none of the lab workers were exposed to the dangerous virus. It was, however, shipped to a lab run by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The contamination was discovered on May 23, but senior C.D.C. officials were not informed until July 7, and Frieden said he was just told two days ago.
He said he is “astonished” by the breaches and has vowed to make improvements:
“We need to look at our culture of safety throughout all of our laboratories,” Frieden said. “I’m upset, I’m angry. I’ve lost sleep over it and I’m doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The AP reported that members of Congress expressed concern about the incidents. Sixteen senators signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, calling for a careful review of safety policies at HHS agencies including the CDC and NIH.
Frieden added that these events likely “have people questioning government.”
You don’t say. People are questioning the efficacy of the government. That’s just….astonishing.
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Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”