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CDC reports lab error led to possible Ebola exposure

The CDC stressed that there is no chance anyone outside the laboratory could have been exposed and there is no danger to the public

By Aileen Graef
CDC reports lab error led to possible Ebola exposure
CDC Director Tom Frieden said he was "troubled" by the breach at a CDC lab that could have led to a technician being exposed to the disease. UPI/David Tulis | License Photo

ATLANTA, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- The national Centers for Disease Control are monitoring one of their lab technicians after an error in virus transport possibly exposed the technician to Ebola.

A dish containing what was possibly live Ebola virus was mistakenly transferred from a secure lab, known as a BSL-4, to a less secure lab, known as a BSL-2. The CDC said they could not rule out the possibility the lab technician in the less secure lab was exposed to the virus.

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The virus was being tested on guinea pigs to discover if the strain devastating West Africa is deadlier than strains from previous outbreaks. The technician should have recognized the mistake when looking at the color-coded samples.

The breach was discovered by laboratory scientists who immediately notified their supervisors at the CDC. In a press release, the CDC assured there is no chance anyone outside the laboratory could have been exposed and there is no danger to the public.

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"I am troubled by this incident in our Ebola research laboratory in Atlanta," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "We are monitoring the health of one technician who could possibly have been exposed and I have directed that there be a full review of every aspect of the incident and that CDC take all necessary measures. Thousands of laboratory scientists in more than 150 labs throughout CDC have taken extraordinary steps in recent months to improve safety. No risk to staff is acceptable, and our efforts to improve lab safety are essential -- the safety of our employees is our highest priority."

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The CDC is conducting an internal investigation and the incident and details of the investigation have been reported to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. The technician who was possibly exposed is showing no symptoms but will continue to be monitored for 21 days.

"To err is to be human. We expect that to happen in any kind of high-tech setting," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "So what you do is build in a set of procedures and checks and balances. They need to be in place to account for human error."

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