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article imageCDC sanctioned for mishandling pathogens

By Tim Sandle     May 11, 2016 in Health
Washington - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has received a sanction due to several weaknesses relating to its handling of pathogens and infected material.
USA Today has discovered that one CDC laboratory had its permit for handling hazardous and pathogenic material revoked. The reason for this was due to "serious safety violations while working with bioterror pathogens." TThe CDC is authorized to handle such organisms as Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax) and viruses like Ebola.
The types of pathogens handled vary according to the facility. The issue in question happenedin 2007. The point of interest to the media relates to a failure to make the issue public. The laboratory in question was examining Japanese encephalitis virus. This is a mosquito-borne disease and it can, in some circumstances, lead to convulsions and a raised body temperature; moreover, the disease can sometimes be fatal. The laboratory in question, based in Colorado had, according to Engadget, its license to handle pathogens restored in 2010.
Following questions from the U.S. media, the federal agency has declared that different centers have previously been sanctioned — a total of six times — since 2003 for related issues. Although few details have been forthcoming, the CDC has stated that three facilities were closed because they dispatched pathogens that were not inactivated to recipient laboratories that were not authorized to receive them. Five of the six laboratories returned to pathogen-handling operations after procedures were updated. One of these incidents was reported by Digital Journal in 2014, and it involved the shipping of anthrax. Later in the year, the head of a CDC biosecurity laboratory left his post following a safety review of U.S. government laboratories.
The issue raises the question: when should a publicly funded body declare such issues to the U.S. public? Where does the line fall between safeguarding secretive work into, say, bio-terrorism and letting those in the local community know about a potential threat? The information obtained by USA Today came about through a tip-off that led to a request being made under the Freedom of Information Act.
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