Scientists at the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting tests to see whether the procedure they followed to kill anthrax, although flawed by their own standards, may nevertheless have killed the potentially deadly pathogen before it was sent to less-secure laboratories, where employees work without adequate protective gear.
If they are right, it may mean dozens of scientists and staff, who were given a vaccine and powerful antibiotics to prevent anthrax infection, may never actually have been in danger of anthrax disease, a potentially deadly illness that was at the center of 2001 bioterror attacks.
Researchers in the CDC’s bioterrorism response lab are retracing the events within the lab between June 6 and June 13 that led to the possible exposure of 84 employees at the agency’s Atlanta campus, an agency official told Reuters.
New details about the agency’s investigation suggest the anthrax that was being inactivated in a high security lab may have been sitting in a bath of acid for 24 hours before being transferred to two lower-security labs.
What researchers are trying to find out is whether that was long enough to kill the anthrax, Dr Paul Meechan, director of the CDC’s environmental health and safety compliance office, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“We don’t know that, but we’re doing experiments to prove it,” said Meechan. The CDC first disclosed the incident to Reuters a week ago.