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article imageU.S. Army mishandles plague samples

By Tim Sandle     Sep 11, 2015 in Health
Washington - The U.S. Army appears to have improperly handed hazardous biological agents. This is the second incident this year where the U.S. armed forces have mishandled a biohazard.
According to the Washington Examiner, samples of the plague bacterium (Yersinia pestis) and one of the causative agent of equine encephalitis (a virus) may have been improperly labeled at a Defense Department laboratory in Maryland.
The mishap has been reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and confirmed by the Pentagon. In August 2015, CDC inspectors found samples of the two biological agents left in a freezer located outside of a containment area at the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
The issue arose when the CDC was carrying out a routine inspection. When the inspectors checked the freezer, the samples appeared to consist of low-risk material. However, after a log book was cross-check, it appears the samples were in fact serious pathogens and had been mislabeled. An investigation is now ongoing.
The issue is doubly serious because this is not the first incident the U.S. Army has been involved with this year in relation to biological agents. In May 2015 it was reported that up to 22 army personnel could have been exposed to anthrax (live cultures of Bacillus anthracis) during a laboratory training exercise which took place at a U.S. military base in South Korea.
Both of these incidents raise important questions about biosecurity. The anthrax investigation remains unresolved, as Peter Cook, Pentagon spokesperson confirmed on September 10: "We're working collaboratively with the CDC, I know the Army is, right now, trying to determine exactly what's transpired here in this most recent instance. I know that even the CDC itself -- my understanding is their most recent statement that there is, in their words, "nothing to suggest risk to the health of workers or the general public," which, of course, we take as -- you know, significant."
To the slow-running anthrax investigation a new biological hazard investigation needs to be added.
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