Anthrax exposure has hit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. According to the agency, nearly 100 Atlanta-based workers for the CDC may have been unintentionally exposed to anthrax. This includes people who have come forward since the announcement Thursday and claimed they were in the area during the time of exposure.
The workers that have been identified at risk for exposure to anthrax are being monitored and/or provided antibiotics, as well as anthrax vaccine. Based on the agency’s exposure scenarios, the CDC maintains the risk of infection is very low. Moreover, the CDC has stated other CDC staff, family members, and the general public are not at risk of exposure and do not need to take any protective action.
Early reports indicate anthrax exposure hit the CDC because labs involved did not properly inactivate samples, which were then transported and used for experimentation in three other laboratories at the CDC not equipped to handle live samples of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis). Under the impression the samples were properly inactivated, workers in the affected labs did not use adequate protective equipment. The unintentional exposure was discovered on June 13. According to the CDC, at some juncture between then and June 6, procedures in two of the three labs might have aerosolized the spores. As a result, hallways and lab areas at the CDC were decontaminated as a precautionary measure.
As of Thursday afternoon, the agency’s Occupational Health Clinic had seen 54 employees identified to have been in the labs or hallways at the time of exposure. Of the 54 who have already been evaluated, only two chose not to take oral antibiotic treatment. In addition to taking antibiotics to ward off any possible anthrax infection, the CDC says 27 staffers have also received the anthrax vaccine. The remaining identified CDC employees, who have not yet been evaluated at their clinic, are scheduled to be seen Friday.
There are three types of known anthrax infection, which include cutaneous via the skin, inhalation via the lungs, and gastrointestinal digestion. Early symptoms could often suggest the flu with complaints including high fever, malaise, body aches, lethargy, headaches, and bone aches. In the worst case scenarios, if an infected person does not get treatment and has been exposed, it could prove lethal for the individual.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is aware of the incident and working with officials at the CDC as they investigate. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the CDC said disciplinary action will be taken if deemed necessary. Moreover, the agency will review safety protocol with its employees following this incident.
The safety breach that resulted in anthrax exposure hitting the CDC labs and exposed nearly 100 workers to live anthrax centered around a pivotal lapse in safety protocol procedure. Researchers working with the bacteria waited 24 hours to be sure they had killed the pathogens, which is half the time required by a new scientific protocol. The lab designed to handle highly dangerous pathogens at the CDC in Atlanta, GA unknowingly sent live samples of anthrax to other CDC labs with fewer safeguards, where the exposure occurred. To date, no one exposed has died or fallen ill, however, all CDC employees identified as at risk to exposure are being monitored and/or treated with an anthrax vaccine and powerful antibiotics as a preventive measure. The exposure incident is unprecedented in the history of American research on biohazard weapons and other deadly pathogens, and has prompted concerns among researchers who have already warned about the possible consequences of improper laboratory oversight globally. In the wake of this incident, the CDC has promised the process of handling such bacteria and viruses will be improved and the agency will review safety protocol with its employees.
By Leigh Haugh