The director of one of the world's most prestigious public health agencies went before Congress on Wednesday to try to explain laboratory blunders that included his scientists mishandling live anthrax and unknowingly contaminating other specimens with a dangerous strain of bird flu.
At some point between June 6 and June 13, an estimated 75-84 scientists and staff members at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) biolab were exposed to live anthrax.
The live pathogen had been sent from another, higher-security facility, which failed to follow biosafety protocols. According to one report:
“The exposure incident is unprecedented in the history of American research on bioweapons and other deadly pathogens, prompting alarm among researchers who have already warned about the consequences of lax laboratory oversight globally.
Scientists in and out of the CDC say the process of handling such bacteria and viruses must be improved.”
While unprecedented in terms of the number of people exposed, this isn't the first time this kind of potentially lethal blunder has occurred with live anthrax in the US. Also, it's not unprecedented in global terms.
In the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident, 94 Russians were exposed to anthrax through an accidental release, …
This last type is the worst, because the bacteria release spores that can lurk in the body for 60 days or more before they are activated. Then they release a toxin that can kill.
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