CDC Closes Labs After Anthrax, Bird Flu and Small Pox Scares

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Erik S. Lesser/AP File Photo

Days after the discovery of small pox vials in a NIH medical laboratory in Bethesda, the Center For Disease Control announced Friday that labs connected to anthrax and bird flu scares would be temporarily closed. 

“These events should never have happened,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a call with reporters Friday. The American people “may be wondering whether we’re doing what we need to do to keep them safe and to keep our workers safe,” he said. 

The revelations came in an internal report ordered last month after 84 employees were possibly exposed to live Anthrax bacteria sent from one CDC lab to another. During the investigation, it was discovered that CDC employees at a highly secured lab sent deadly strains of bird flu to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in March. Frieden told reporters the incident was never reported to the CDC senior officials and was a result of employees failing to abide by the agency's safety procedures.

"I'm just astonished that this could have happened here," Frieden told the AP.

Frieden also announced Friday, that two of the 60-year old vials found at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda reportedly contained the smallpox virus. He said it could take up to two weeks to figure out the status of the rest of the vials after which they will be destroyed in front of World Health Organization officials. 

Due to safety concerns raised by the investigation, the CDC has stopped shipping dangerous germs between facilities and is shutting down two of its laboratories. The agency is currently setting up an external advisory committee on biosafety. Frieden will testify before an oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee investigating CDC lab safety and security on Wednesday. 

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