CDC reassigns director of lab behind anthrax blunder
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[June 23, 2014]
By Hilary Russ and Julie
ATLANTA/CHICAGO (Reuters) -
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
reassigned the director of the bioterror lab behind the
potential anthrax exposure of dozens of scientists and
staff, sources told Reuters, as the anthrax controversy
Michael Farrell, head of the CDC's Bioterror Rapid Response and
Advanced Technology Laboratory, has been reassigned as the agency
investigates the incident, two CDC scientists who are not authorized
to speak with press told Reuters.
The possible exposure has forced as many as 84 employees at the
agency's Atlanta campus to get a vaccine or take powerful
antibiotics with known side effects to ward off potentially deadly
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner declined to comment on Farrell. Calls and
e-mail to Farrell were not returned.
On Friday, the CDC gathered staff at a meeting, where individuals in
labs adjacent to the affected areas complained they had not been
properly informed about the anthrax incident first discovered on
June 13, Skinner said.
In a Friday e-mail to staff, CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden
apologized for delays in informing the wider CDC community about
lapses in the high-profile bioterror lab.
"We waited too long to inform the broader CDC workforce," he wrote
in the email obtained by Reuters.
According to the CDC, some time between June 6 and June 13, workers
in the bioterror lab were trying out a new protocol for killing
anthrax before sending the bacteria for use in two lower-security
CDC spokesman Skinner on Sunday said the bioterror lab sent the
anthrax bacteria to other labs in closed tubes. The recipients
agitated the tubes and then removed the lids, raising concerns that
live anthrax could have been released into the air.
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Both of the CDC scientists Reuters spoke with believe the risk of
infection is very slight because only a tiny amount of anthrax was
sent out of the bioterror lab.
On June 18, a team of CDC scientists used swabs and wipes to take
samples from all lab surfaces that might have been contaminated.
Skinner said results from the first two days of tests have been
negative, but the CDC will continue watching the samples for another
six days to see if anything grows.
Dr. Paul Meechan, director of the CDC's environmental health
and safety compliance office, first disclosed the possible
anthrax exposure to Reuters on Thursday.
(Editing by Peter Henderson)
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