Following the laboratory mishaps with anthrax and H5N1 avian influenza linked to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year, the federal health agency is reporting that a small amount of material from an Ebola virus experiment that was securely transported from a Select-Agent-approved BSL-4 lab to a Select-Agent-approved BSL-2 lab may have contained live virus.
The material was on a sealed plate but should not have been moved into the BSL-2 laboratory. The CDC cannot rule out possible exposure of the one laboratory technician who worked with the material in the BSL-2 laboratory.
Health authorities say there was no possible exposure outside the secure laboratory at CDC and no exposure or risk to the public. The event was discovered by the laboratory scientists Tuesday, December 23, and reported to leadership within an hour of the discovery.
The event is under internal investigation by CDC, was reported to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, and reporting to the internal and national Select Agent Programs has been initiated. CDC will provide a report on the event when the investigation concludes. The BSL-2 laboratory area had already been decontaminated and the material destroyed as a routine procedure before the error was identified. The laboratory was decontaminated for a second time, and is now closed and transfers from the BSL-4 lab have been stopped while the review is taking place.
“I am troubled by this incident in our Ebola research laboratory in Atlanta,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “We are monitoring the health of one technician who could possibly have been exposed and I have directed that there be a full review of every aspect of the incident and that CDC take all necessary measures. Thousands of laboratory scientists in more than 150 labs throughout CDC have taken extraordinary steps in recent months to improve safety. No risk to staff is acceptable, and our efforts to improve lab safety are essential — the safety of our employees is our highest priority.”
One person–the BSL-2 lab technician who processed the material and who currently has no symptoms of illness–has been assessed and will be monitored for 21 days, according to CDC guidance. Others who entered the lab have been contacted and were assessed for possible exposure. As of this time we believe exposure requiring monitoring is limited to one individual.