It is a Friday the 13th Dr Paul Meechan will not soon forget.
On that night last week, bioterrorism researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered they had mistakenly sent live anthrax virus out to fellow scientists in two lower-security clearance labs at the agency, instead of what they thought were harmless samples of the deadly pathogen.
The initial safety lapse occurred in the CDC’s Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology laboratory, a high security lab that was trying out a new protocol for inactivating anthrax, using chemicals instead of radiation.
In an interview, the CDC’s Meechan described some of the events that led to the discovery that as many as 75 agency staff had been exposed to live anthrax. The CDC first disclosed the incident to Reuters on Thursday.
The scientists in the Bioterror Rapid Response units had been preparing an especially dangerous strain of the bacteria for use in two lower-security CDC labs, the Biotechnology Core Facility and the Special Bacteriology Reference Laboratory, Meechan said.