Another biosafety lapse at CDC

The Zaire Ebola virus bound to an antibody taken from a survivor of the 1995 outbreak in Kikwit, Zaire, via Unraveling Ebola. Credit:  Christina Corbaci & Erica Ollmann Saphire

The Zire Ebola virus bound to an antibody taken from a survivor of the 1995 outbreak in Kikwit, Zaire, via Unraveling Ebola. Credit: Christina Corbaci & Erica Ollmann Saphire

Early last week, news came out that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention sent live virus internally to a lab not equipped to handle it. One technician was potentially exposed to the virus and is being monitored, but so far she is reportedly showing no signs of the disease.

Stuart Nichol, chief of the CDC’s Viral Special Pathogens Branch, attributed the incident to human error, the New York Times reported.

Earlier this year, CDC “closed influenza and anthrax research sites and halted all biological materials shipments from its highest level containment labs following safety breaches that endangered dozens of employees,” C&EN reported. The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy subsequently encouraged government and nongovernment labs to do a “safety stand-down” to review safety practices. Here’s CDC’s summary of the results of the stand-down.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. The stand-down report referenced in Jyllian’s article is a prime example of “When all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is said than done.” So, this is what I gathered from the “fact sheet” summary report and the recent events:

    a. CDC had a “safety stand-down” sometime in the August/September 2014 time frame but does not mention when it actually occurred, how long it lasted, if work actually stopped for all researchers for training.

    b. Some training or retraining occurred.

    c. There is a lot of “will implement,” “implementing,” and other phraseology that indicates most corrective actions will occur sometime in the nebulous future; but gives no due dates for completion or follow up action, a complete violation of Elston’s management axiom #1: “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

    d. Evidently the safety stand-down didn’t take – as we have yet another incident of a biosafety/security failure in late December.

    Now it appears as though that upper CDC management is looking for a “Safety Chief” (http://goo.gl/rPCsRJ) presumably to get the ship upright again. Color me cynical on this New Year’s day, but I’m not convinced. It sounds as though they are looking for another mid-to-high level manager to provide a layer of insulation for upper management (including the director), one whose head will be placed on a pike outside of the Atlanta campus when the next lapse occurs.

    CDC’s safety program appears to be a Potemkin village – all the way down from the top.