Monday, 4 March, 2024
HomeFocusUS lab closures signal stronger international controls

US lab closures signal stronger international controls

After potentially serious back-to-back laboratory accidents, [b]US[/b] health officials temporarily closed the flu and anthrax laboratories at the [b]Centre’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[/b] in [b]Atlanta[/b] and halted shipments of all infectious agents from the agency’s highest-security labs. [s]The News York Times[/s] reports that the accidents, and the CDC’s emphatic response to them, could have important consequences for the many laboratories that store high-risk agents and the few that, even more controversially, spec ialise in making them more dangerous for research purposes.

The report says there will undoubtedly be calls for stricter controls on other university, military and private laboratories. CDD director Dr Thomas Frieden said that the accidents had implications for labs beyond his agency and that the world needs to reduce to ‘absolute minimum’ the number of labs handling dangerous agents, the number of staff involved and the number of agents circulating.

A [b]CDC inquiry[/b] has found that US government infectious disease labs mishandled dangerous pathogens five times in the past decade. [s]BBC News[/s] reports that this year alone, workers mishandled samples of anthrax and the highly infectious H5N1 avian flu. ‘These events should never have happened,’ Frieden is quoted as saying.

A government scientist cleaning out a storage room in a lab on the [b]National Institutes of Health’s Bethesda[/b] campus in the US found decades-old vials of smallpox, in the second incident involving the mishandling of a highly dangerous pathogen by a federal health agency in a month, reports [s]The Washington Post[/s]. The vials, apparently dating from the 1950s, were flown by government plane to [s]CDC[/s] headquarters and initial testing confirmed the presence of ¬smallpox-virus DNA. Further testing will determine whether the material is live, after which the samples will be destroyed. There is no evidence that any of the vials had been breached or that workers in the lab were exposed to infection.

Bio-security has focused on ‘how to keep bad guys out of the lab,’ Michael Osterholm of the [b]University of Minnesota[/b] and a member of the [b]National Science Advisory Board for Bio-security[/b], which advises the [b]US[/b] government, is quoted in [s]Reuters Health[/s] as saying. ‘One of the critical issues we need to focus on is the good guys who just forget to do it safely.’ Outside experts agreed that shipping what CDC scientists believed were samples of a fairly benign form of influenza but which were mixed with the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu was even more alarming than the anthrax incident. Other deficiencies noted in the report included inconsistent decontamination procedures and a lack of clear command for handling the incident. To prevent future mishaps, CDC is creating a ‘lead laboratory science’ position to be accountable for safety and setting up an external advisory committee on biosafety.

[link url=]Full report in The New York Times[/link]
[link url=]Full BBC News report[/link]
[link url=]CDC inquiry report[/link]
[link url=]Full report in The Washington Post[/link]
[link url=]Full Reuters Health report[/link]

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