Anthrax Scare: Director of Lab Reassigned by CDC

CDC anthrax scare moves director
The first fallout from the anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) scare which took place earlier this month has come to light. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decided to reassign Michael Farrell, the director of the Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory, which was responsible for the anthrax scare. Reuters broke the story as an exclusive, getting confirmation from two separate CDC scientists who were not named because they didn’t have authority to speak with press.

The incident may have exposed as many as 84 scientists and workers in the CDC’s Atlanta facility to the potentially fatal bacteria. Although there’s no confirmation on where Farrell has been reassigned, the move took place while both the CDC and Department of Agriculture try to find out exactly what protocol breakdowns took place for the incident to occur in the first place. Those who may have been exposed are currently being watched (Symptoms from anthrax exposure can take as many as two months to appear.), and given both vaccines and antibiotics. Nobody has thus far become ill from the incident.

The CDC released the following statement on Friday, “Out of an abundance of caution, CDC is taking aggressive steps to protect the health of all involved, including protective courses of antibiotics for potentially exposed staff. Based on most of the potential exposure scenarios, the risk of infection is very low.”

The incident happened sometime between June 6 and June 13 when safety procedures in the bioterror lab failed to be followed as the anthrax was being inactivated, so it could be used in lower-security CDC labs. The samples were supposed to be inactive, but ended up being shipped still active. The lower-security labs did not have the safety and protective equipment to handle the active bacteria.

On June 13, the mistake came to light when CDC scientists found live bacteria growing on plates used to inactivate the anthrax, and where the bacterium was not supposed to be active. It was at this point researchers realized they had sent live anthrax to CDC labs not equipped to handle it. While there has been a lot of concern and precautions taken in the aftermath of the discovery, the CDC is now saying it appears the risk of anthrax infection is low.

On Friday, June 20, a group staff meeting was held which included those working in in labs next to those affected. Staff members voiced their displeasure of not being properly informed of the risks when the CDC first discovered the live bacteria on June 13. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director, issued an email apology to CDC workers in regard to the delays involved in getting word out to the entire CDC community about the mistakes made.

(Photo courtesy of umich)

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