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CDC Closes Anthrax, Flu Labs After Potentially Deadly Mix-Ups Come to Light 89

Posted by timothy
from the try-the-new-super-vaccine dept.
In the wake of two potentially deadly accidents, the CDC yesterday announced the temporary closure of both the anthrax and flu research labs at the agency's Atlanta headquarters. The New York Times reports: In one episode last month, at least 62 C.D.C. employees may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after potentially infectious samples were sent to laboratories unequipped to handle them. Employees not wearing protective gear worked with bacteria that were supposed to have been killed but may not have been. All were offered a vaccine and antibiotics, and the agency said it believed no one was in danger. “We have a high degree of confidence that no one was exposed,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the C.D.C. director. Credit David Goldman/Associated Press In a second accident, disclosed Friday, a C.D.C. lab accidentally contaminated a relatively benign flu sample with a dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain that has killed 386 people since 2003. Fortunately, a United States Agriculture Department laboratory realized that the strain was more dangerous than expected and alerted the C.D.C. ... The anthrax and flu labs will remain closed until new procedures are imposed, Frieden said. For the flu lab, that will be finished in time for vaccine preparation for next winter’s flu season, he said.
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CDC Closes Anthrax, Flu Labs After Potentially Deadly Mix-Ups Come to Light

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  • by Bruce66423 (1678196) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @08:30PM (#47440363)
    That is what should happen surely?
    • by imidan (559239) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @09:02PM (#47440467)

      Wouldn't it make more sense to perform an audit to ensure that this hasn't happened unnoticed in the past, and simultaneously to perform a review and revision of the protocols and policies that allowed this to happen? I feel like solving the problem is more important than assigning blame. I mean, I can see firing someone if they had acted from gross incompetence, but I don't think prison is necessary.

      • by djupedal (584558)
        'solving the problem' is what you do when someone on staff forgets to order more staples.

        Repeatedly risking human lives is ripe for blame, don't you think?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Maybe so. But was it the same guy who caused both of these things to happen? Is their timing coincidental, or is there a systemic cause? Maybe the political reality is that someone needs to be fired, and I can understand that, but I'm more interested in making sure that we minimize the risk of this happening again by identifying and addressing the systemic causes.

        • by sjames (1099)

          You would rather punish someone than make sure this doesn't happen again? Why?

          If you want people to be open and honest about how things are actually being done so you can find out where the problem lies, you cannot also be playing the blame game.

          Beyond that, where is the criminal intent? Do you allege that some psychopath is deliberately endangering lives for a laugh?

          • The problem, of course, is that if there is no meaningful accountability, then there's no incentive to get it right. UK unions are attempting to get a named company director liable for health and safety violations to encourage compliance, but the reality is that it's so difficult to do that the outcome is liable to be that nobody would accept the job. By contrast the National Health Service is trying to encourage 'no blame' reporting of errors, but there the ambulance chasing lawyers turn up and make it und
            • by sjames (1099)

              In cases with potentially dire consequences, I suspect people will be careful even if they don't believe they will be held accountable. In other cases, it may be too easy to rationalize that nothing bad will actually happen (often true of things like workplace safety).

        • by Anonymous Coward

          In the context of this type of research, no. Look at the history of criticality incidents in nuclear research and resulting modifications to practice. Typically, they didn't file criminal charges. Instead, they went back and redesigned equipment to account for human error. Same reason most uni labs don't have solvent stills anymore...

          Life is dangerous. Statistically speaking, it tends to kill far more people than just about any other activity you can engage it. ;)

    • by mysidia (191772)

      That is what should happen surely?

      Only if someone is criminally culpable [wikipedia.org]. It's more likely to just be plain stupidity, which unfortunately cannot be prosecuted, even when it's a government official.

      • If the law has been broken, then it is always chargeable as a offence, even if it's as a result of stupidity not criminal intent. The alternative is that ignorance becomes an absolute defence, which makes no sense.
        • by mysidia (191772)

          If the law has been broken, then it is always chargeable as a offence, even if it's as a result of stupidity not criminal intent.

          This is incorrect; unless the particular act or omission rises to the level of criminal negligence, meeting the specific requirements of criminal negligence, then ignorance of the potential consequences of the act or omission is an absolute defense; if it is the case, then the act or omission cannot be a crime.

          The waitress who delivers the poisoned drink to the patron is not

          • I accept your point which is well made. I was referring to ignorance of the regulations about a topic when fully aware of the facts. Telling the IRS you didn't know about a tax rule is generally not a successful strategy!
    • by geekoid (135745)

      For what?

      • I'm guessing that there are laws about such things...
        • I'm guessing that there are laws about such things...

          And there you have it. You're just guessing, and you have no idea whether a crime was committed. There was no suggestion in the article that any crime *was* committed. A search on "was cdc anthrax exposure a crime?" yielded no front page results even speculating on it.

          Yet you took the time to *repeatedly* post the question of prosecution. Did you read the article? Did you do any search to answer your own question? I'm "guessing" no.

          • I was confident that rules would exist. Two minutes playing on the OHSA website produced https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaw... [osha.gov] which lays out comprehensive requirements for biohazard materials. I would have been amazed if they hadn't existed - which is why I 'guessed'. Governments are often predictable!
            • No. Just no.

              Remember what you actually wrote?

              So will there be criminal charges?
              That is what should happen surely?


              You didn't inquire (excuse me, "enquire") about "rules" and how they apply, you wanted to know who is going to jail. And the CDC is governed by HHS. While OSHA rules probably apply to most CDC operations, oversight is by HHS, and the OIG (office of the inspector general).

              The point is not whether there are "rules". Of course there are rules. The point is that your knee jerk reaction to a re
              • The purpose of the criminal law is to protect the public from damage caused to people or their property as a result of the actions of another. The failure to deal correctly with these biohazards raises the prospect of serious damage to people. Therefore it is logical to invoke the criminal law to punish those who put people at risk of serious damage. If there are no consequences on the perpetrators of an offence, in the broadest terms, then there is every reason to expect people to do it again. The only que
                • Well, at least you've backed off claiming you were looking for the "rules", and that "the rules" should result in criminal prosecutions, when your interest from the beginning was in seeing someone prosecuted.

                  So you're focused squarely on the wrong point, but at least you're focused.

                  Congrats. I'm done wrestling the greased pig that is your supposed argument.
    • by gtall (79522)

      Ah, yes, someone fucked up, let the lawsuits begin. Woe betide the poor SOB who screws something up not by malice or incompetence but simply because s/he wasn't perfect all the time.

      Let's turn the entire American economy and government into a sclerotic clusterfuck mimicking the patent mess that only lawyers can disentangle...for high hourly fees and changes that will benefit them to keep the gravy train rolling. All aboard!!

  • As long as the world is turning and spinning, we're gonna be dizzy and we're gonna make mistakes.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Live Anthrax [youtube.com]

    It looks a hell of lot more than 62 people, though.

  • Why am I reminded of the game: Halflife, level: Unforeseen consequences right now?
  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @08:55PM (#47440449)

    "People that do stupid things with dangerous objects often die."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Hey y'all, watch this!"

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @09:08PM (#47440487)
    The CDC has to study the dangerous types of virus, since they can be weaponized.

    If you think mistakes and carelessness are rare with level four viruses, I recommend The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.

    If you remember you have something to live for, it will keep you up nights.

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @09:28PM (#47440529) Journal

    The handling of deadly disease agents should be privatized and put into the hands of industry as soon as possible! Let the free market solve the problem!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 13, 2014 @02:16AM (#47441233)

      I have a friend that works at the influenza lab in question. From what I've been told... this is what happened. That the prep work was done by private sector before samples were handed off to the CDC. It was a poorly trained lab tech at the private company that screwed up the anthrax samples in question. (Second hand hearsay here though, so take with a grain of salt.)

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @09:47PM (#47440569)
    And then everyone dies.
    • It's not the cold that kills you - it's the cure [google.com] for the common cold. And not everybody dies. Or stays dead.

  • ... thank goodness the Feds are taking ever larger roles in healthcare! Clearly, they know what they are doing.
    • Re:Well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Sunday July 13, 2014 @01:58AM (#47441189) Homepage Journal

      YOu mean when an issue came to light the immediately started working on it to see that it's fixed?

      Yes, that is government system at work,

      Why do idiots like you thing privatized health care doesn't have incidents? oh right, because private companies can hush it up where as government entities have to be far more open.

      Had this been private company, do you think you would have heard of it?

      • No, the heavy hand of government would have shut the private company down.

        I will never understand people who like big government. What is your freaking deal? Do you hope to get in and control the rest of us? It ain't gonna happen, you're not an elite, otherwise you won't be wasting your time posting on Slashdot. The boot is going to stomp on your face just like everyone else's.

    • by gtall (79522)

      Yep, let's trust private companies with research into anthrax. You do realize that anthrax occurs naturally and can be weaponized?

      And the healthcare system we have is considered the most expensive in the world with outcome behind other systems. This is the healthcare private industry has provided you. And if you manage to catch something that doesn't turn a profit, the only ones with any research on it are likely to be the CDC. So I'll be expecting you to reject any help from them when the Grim Reaper makes

  • by Kardos (1348077) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @10:07PM (#47440647)

    > Employees not wearing protective gear worked with bacteria that were supposed to have been killed but may not have been.

    So the employees didn't use protective gear during their work, and that got them slated for a killing? I can understand trying to contain an outbreak, but one would think they should have been quarantined and tested for infection before commencement with the killing. Who's in charge of this mickey mouse operation anyway?

    • by kybred (795293)

      > Employees not wearing protective gear worked with (bacteria that were supposed to have been killed but may not have been).

      I've often wished that writers of the English language were required to use parenthesis to help with parsing.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I've often wished that writers of the English language were required to use parenthesis to help with parsing.

        In fact, that is the purpose of the comma, which is often incorrectly replaced with parentheses.

        • by MadKeithV (102058)

          I've often wished that writers of the English language were required to use parenthesis to help with parsing.

          In fact, that is the purpose of the comma, which is often incorrectly replaced with parentheses.

          The comma operator could be overloaded, the parentheses operator can't be.

          • In C++, you can overload parentheses, and that's often useful. You can overload the comma, also, but that's generally not a good idea, since the unmessed-with comma has different behavior than an overloaded comma operator.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      So the employees didn't use protective gear during their work, and that got them slated for a killing?

      They thought the samples they were working with were supposed to be specimens which had been killed and were no longer alive, so they got complacent and started letting technicians handle them without the proper gear and procedures strictly implemented to help ensure safety.

    • They just wanted to save the hassle of sending in the nukes. Do you know how much paperwork they make you sign for each obliterated virus outbreak these days? It's like initial this pdf to get the plane, sign that fuel requisition, assisinate two pesky reporters, on and on! I kid you not.
  • You'd think not getting anthrax, smallpox and deadly bird flu would be a powerful incentive to follow the proper procedures to keep everything sanitary :-/

    I suppose if upper management ignored the problem for long enough, it WOULD eventually sort itself out...

    • When you live with a situation that the world labels 'dangerous' and nothing happens, it's hard to keep believing its really dangerous. This is why deterrent sentences on criminals don't have much effect; people get used to the idea, and carry on living in the same way regardless of the risk. Sad but true!
  • by Skevin (16048) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @11:51PM (#47440919) Journal

    "Employees not wearing protective gear worked with bacteria that were supposed to have been killed but may not have been."

    The Employees were supposed to have been killed? Now which Three-Letter-Angency is responsible for that?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      While amusing, it is worth pointing out (since already multiple people have made such a joke): the interpretation in which the employees were supposed to have been killed is not a valid interpretation.

      "Employees not wearing protective gear" is a noun-phrase, and the subject. "worked" is the verb. "with bacteria that were supposed to have been killed but may not have been" is a prepositional phrase which is the object of the verb. ("bacteria that..." is a single noun phrase, and is the object of the preposit

      • by weilawei (897823)

        It is perhaps a somewhat awkwardly written sentence, but it is not grammatically incorrect or ambiguous as far as I can tell.

        Just run it by a constitutional scholar. I'm sure they'll provide you with many more interpretations.

  • So begins World War Z!
  • At the vaccination research lab funded by Jenny McCarthy, all of the workers who were treated for exposure are now autistic.

  • I just binge-played Plague, Inc. on my phone.

    Now when I hear a story like this, my first thought is, "Will I get bonus DNA points because of this?"

  • In my clinical virology lab we get test samples several times a year from the College of American Pathologists (CAP) to assure that we maintain our competency in diagnosing viral agents. One year, a technologist noticed that the respiratory culture she was looking at was remarkably "hot." Turned out it was the 1918 Pandemic Influenza A strain that killed a bazillion people! Gee, thanks CAP! That should be handled in a Biosafety Level 5 lab, not a Biosafety 2 lab! Thank goodness I wasn't reading those tubes

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