NYT: CDC Makes Horrible Ebola Lab Error

Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine - PLoS Pathogens, November 2008 direct link to the image description page doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000225
Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles.

(Above image: Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine – PLoS Pathogens, November 2008. Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles.)

The New York Times reports that Centers for Disease Control (CDC) experts have made a crucial error resulting in possibly exposing a technician to the deadly Ebola virus. The mistake highlights the point of the article (printed below) first published several months ago that disputed the notion of some experts who claimed there was “zero risk” to people in the U.S. from Ebola virus since top, highly-trained health experts in the U.S. were on the job. There is a history of occasional but serious mishaps by CDC experts who handle deadly infectious diseases.

According to the New York Times:

A laboratory mistake at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have exposed a technician to the deadly Ebola virus, federal officials said on Wednesday. The technician will be monitored for signs of infection for 21 days, the incubation period of the disease. A small number of other employees, fewer than a dozen, who entered a lab where the mistake occurred will also be assessed for exposure.

The Times reports the mistake happened earlier this week when a high-security lab at CDC in Atlanta, working with Ebola from West Africa, sent samples to a CDC lab down the hall. The samples were supposed to be inactivated. But the lab sent out the wrong samples: ones that may have contained live virus. A technician worked with the samples wearing only gloves and a gown but no mask.

Read today’s NYT article: CDC Ebola Lab Error

(The following article is a reprint of one that was first published on SharylAttkisson.com in September 2014)

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) expends a great deal of effort and tax money alarming Americans about common illnesses from which most safely recover, such as chicken pox or influenza, but sometimes appears to tamp down concerns about deadlier illnesses: in this case Ebola.

There may be good reason. Chicken pox and influenza are rarely fatal, but can infect so many people that even a small percentage of serious cases can add up. And promoting awareness helps create a market for vaccines that can sometimes prevent the diseases or lessen their serious effects.

There is no effective vaccine for Ebola, described by the World Health Organization as “one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. Yet, CDC is reassuring Americans that they face little risk from two Ebola-infected patients being brought into the U.S. for treatment. A missionary doctor, Kent Brantly, arrived Saturday and charity worker Nancy Writebol will soon follow. They will be treated at Emory University Hospital’s sophisticated isolation unit for infectious diseases in Atlanta, Georgia.

Medical experts are confident that ordinary Americans are not being put at much, if any, risk. Emory’s isolation unit makes use of negative air pressure to keep contaminated air from flowing out until it’s filtered. The workers who conduct lab testing are specialists in infection control.

However, the statement by some infectious disease experts that there is “zero” risk may be understated. For example, history indicates that accidents do happen. Even medical professionals and researchers with the highest-level of training in handling dangerous infectious diseases have accidentally become exposed to Ebola in recent decades.

According to the CDC, there have been at least 3,270 confirmed cases of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in humans since 1976, including several cases in the U.S.

  • In 1989, the CDC reports, Ebola-Reston virus was introduced into quarantine facilities in Virginia and Pennsylvania by monkeys imported from the Philippines. No humans were infected.
  • In 1990, Ebola-Reston virus was introduced once again into quarantine facilities in Virginia and Texas by monkeys imported from the Philippines. Four humans developed antibodies but did not get sick.
  • In 1996, Ebola-Reston virus was introduced into a quarantine facility in Texas by monkeys imported from the Philippines. No human infections were identified.
  • In May of 2004, a Russian scientist died of the Ebola virus after accidentally pricking herself with a syringe while conducting research on infected guinea pigs in Siberia.
  • A similar accident with Ebola had reportedly occurred several months earlier at the US Army’s biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., but the researcher involved didn’t acquire the disease. This incident is not listed on the CDC’s list of confirmed outbreaks, perhaps because the researcher didn’t develop antibodies.
  • In 2009, a scientist in Berlin, Germany accidentally pricked herself and was infected with Ebola. She was given an experimental vaccine as part of her treatment and did not become ill.

Other serious accidents have happened in the U.S. involving other virulent diseases.

  • CDC reported that in 1991, a lab worker was accidentally infected with smallpox.
  • In 2002, the CDC said a 26-year-old lab worker accidentally stuck herself with a needle and was also infected with smallpox. She had previously been vaccinated and fully recovered from her illness.
  • In June of this year, it was discovered that an estimated 86 lab workers in Atlanta may have been infected with the deadly anthrax bacteria.  CDC said that expert protocols had not been followed and issued a statement saying,

    “Given that CDC expert protocols were not followed, disciplinary action(s) will be taken as necessary,” the government agency wrote in a statement. The unintentional exposure was discovered on June 13 and the investigation as to what happened is ongoing.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, who will be treating the Ebola patients brought into the U.S. told the Associated Press, “Nothing comes out of this unit until it is non-infectious…we do not believe that any health care worker, any other patient or any visitor to our facility is in any way at risk of acquiring this infection.”

http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/bt/vhf/biofacts/index.html CDC Table of Ebola Outbreaks



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