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Due to a series of recent errors and mishaps in the shipment of dangerous pathogens such as anthrax and influenza, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has suspended future shipments while it conducts an investigation.
After news of the anthrax exposure broke on 19 June, the CDC began investigating why its lab workers did not follow proper procedure to inactivate Bacillus anthracis spores before shipping them to another lab on the agency’s Atlanta campus. The receiving lab was not equipped to handle the pathogen, and once the mistake was discovered, more than 70 people were pre-emptively treated for anthrax infection. The CDC now says that the lab never needed to work with B. anthracis in the first place; another bacterium would have sufficed to test the diagnostic equipment that the lab was evaluating. The good news, Frieden says, is that the CDC now does not believe that anyone was actually exposed to anthrax spores.
But the agency’s ongoing investigation has revealed more bad news: on 12–13 March, the CDC’s influenza lab contaminated a harmless flu strain with the highly dangerous H5N1 variety, and sent it to a laboratory operated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Athens, Georgia. The mistake was discovered on 23 May, but Frieden says that he was not notified until 9 July. “Why it took six weeks for that to be made apparent, I can think of no valid explanation,” he says. The USDA lab was equipped to handle highly infectious agents, and the agency is confident that there were no exposures.