Researchers are retracing lab events which led to the possible exposure of 84 employees at agency’s Atlanta campus.
Scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting tests to see whether the procedure they followed to kill anthrax, although flawed by their own standards, may nevertheless have killed the potentially deadly pathogen before it was sent to less-secure laboratories, where employees work without adequate protective gear.
If they are right, it may mean dozens of scientists and staff who were given a vaccine and powerful antibiotics to prevent anthrax infection may never actually have been in danger of anthrax disease, a potentially deadly illness that was at the center of 2001 bioterror attacks.
In 2004, accidentally a batch of live anthrax was sent to a children’s hospital in California by Maryland lab. Following this United States CDC team investigated the decade back issue. The investigators said such issue will not happen again. However here we are experiencing similar sort of history. It seems that CDC has not learnt from the history.
Anthrax is a bacterial infection that affects the skin, gastrointestinal tract or lungs. There are two forms of anthrax known as cutaneous anthrax and inhalation anthrax. Cutaneous anthrax is characterized by symptoms such as blisters, bumps and painless skin sores. Symptoms of inhalation anthrax are fever, chills, shortness of breath, cough, headaches, nausea, vomiting and more. Anthrax can be extremely fatal if it is left undetected and untreated.
The mistake was identified on June 13 when CDC researchers found colonies of live B anthracis on plates they were prepping for disposal. The finding shocked researchers working in the lower-security labs who had been expecting samples containing an inactive form of anthrax.
It is estimated that around 84 CDC employees may have been exposed to the bacteria at the Atlanta laboratories, many of whom are now being offered vaccines and antibiotics as a precautionary measure.
New details about the agency’s investigation suggest the anthrax that was being inactivated in a high security lab may have been sitting in a bath of acid for 24 hours before being transferred to two lower-security labs.
“What researchers are trying to find out is whether that was long enough to kill the anthrax,” said Dr Paul Meechan, director of the CDC’s environmental health and safety compliance office.
The FBI is aware of the incident and coordinating with officials at the CDC as they investigate, said FBI spokesman Christopher Allen.
Investigators want to learn what was happening to the anthrax cells left in the acid bath while the material from the 10-minute sample was in the incubator.
“We want to know whether or not in the 24 hours when they were waiting for that plate to grow, they were actually killing more of the anthrax and possibly all of it,” Meechan said.
A CDC team is setting up an experiment using a similar setup, taking samples of anthrax soaking in acid at different time intervals up to 24 hours.
“The idea is to see how much time it takes to kill everything in that solution,” Meechan said.
Results of the studies will be available soon, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.