CHICAGO (Reuters) – An internal investigation of an Ebola incident at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in December found that samples sent to a lower-security lab were “unlikely” to have contained live virus and posed no threat to staff, the CDC said on Wednesday.
The close call followed mishaps involving anthrax and a deadly strain of bird flu, raising questions about how the agency handles the world’s deadliest pathogens.
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the agency had made “real progress” to improve safety, “but we have more to do.”
The report found that on Dec 22, a scientist working with Ebola, which in 2014 caused the worst recorded outbreak in West Africa, inadvertently transferred a small amount of virus from a high-biosecurity lab to a lower-biosecurity one not authorised to handle live Ebola.
A chief cause of the breach, the investigation concluded, was the “lack of a written study plan,” a document that outlines specific steps to be followed in an experiment. The report also noted a failure to design the study to minimise the possibility of human error.
“That concerned me,” said Scott Becker of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “I thought that was one of the issues they uncovered after the first lab incident.”
According to the report, the scientist placed Ebola into two sets of tubes, one to inactivate it and another to merely isolate it.