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CDC Closes Its Anthrax And Flu Labs After Back-To-Back Potentially Life-Threatening Accidents

These accidents at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could have, in theory, killed members of its staff and the public.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shut down two of its research labs on Friday after a serious anthrax scare and a safety problem involving deadly bird flu.

AP Photo/David Goldman, File

It has also decided to stop shipments of all highly infectious agents from the agency's high-security labs, the New York Times reported.

The agency also revealed on Friday a previously undisclosed accident with a dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain at one of its labs.


Earlier this year, the agency had a safety problem related to the cross-contamination of a flu sample with the dangerous bird flu virus.

Since 2003, 650 human infections with highly pathogenic H5N1 viruses have been reported to the World Health Organization by 15 countries. About 60% of these people died from their illness.

In June, the agency revealed that as many as 75 CDC employees in Atlanta were potentially exposed to live anthrax bacteria sent to labs unequipped to handle dangerous pathogens.

AP Photo/Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program, File

None of the scientists, who handled samples of the highly infectious bacteria without protective gear, were infected.

Besides these back-to-back accidents, the agency also announced that two of the six decades-old vials containing smallpox virus recently discovered in Maryland contained live viruses capable of infecting humans.

AP Photo/CDC, File

The vials containing the dangerous smallpox virus found in a National Institutes of Health laboratory were lying there packed and forgotten since 1954.

Thomas Frieden, director of CDC, said these events showed "completely unacceptable behavior" and said the world needed to reduce the number of labs handling dangerous agents.

Alex Wong / Getty/AFP/File

“They should never have happened," he said, referring to the accidents at CDC. "I’m upset, I’m angry, I’ve lost sleep over this, and I’m working on it until the issue is resolved."

He said that CDC workers who knowingly failed to follow lab procedures or report incidents would be disciplined and that a committee to revise CDC procedures would be convened.

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at

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