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Originally published April 4 2015

If CDC can't keep their own labs safe, why should parents trust their child's life in their hands?

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Public trust in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be undercut by a recent report concluding that CDC lab staff lack safety training and are fearful of reporting accidents.

The panel of experts was appointed by the CDC to review the agency's lab safety practices after a pair of mix-ups involving anthrax and bird flu.

"We are very concerned that the CDC is on the way to losing credibility," the report reads. "The CDC must not see itself as 'special'. The internal controls and rules that the rest of the world works under also apply to CDC."

History of dangerous blunders

Because CDC labs do research ostensibly to improve public health and biosafety, they often work with dangerous infectious agents such as Ebola, anthrax and deadly flu strains. In 2014, the labs were plagued by a series of accidents involving such pathogens.

Early in the year, a CDC lab accidentally sent a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory a sample of H5N1 influenza that had been cross-contaminated with the much more lethal bird flu strain. In June, scientists at a CDC lab used improper handling techniques with anthrax, causing more than 80 CDC employees to be exposed to the disease. The head of that lab later resigned.

Then in December, while the independent panel was still drafting its final report, a safety mix-up caused another CDC lab worker to be exposed to the Ebola virus. The worker was isolated and monitored for 21 days during the holidays, then pronounced free of infection. A later investigation revealed that there might not have been live virus in the sample which the worker was exposed to, raising the question of whether even the response to the safety breach was inappropriate.

Staff poorly trained, afraid of retaliation

The report -- submitted to the CDC on January 13 but only posted without fanfare to the agency's public website more than two months later -- seems to suggest that these accidents stem from systemic problems with the agency's lab safety practices.

"Leadership commitment toward safety has been inconsistent and insufficient at multiple levels," the report reads. In addition, the investigators found that laboratory employee safety training was both inconsistent and inadequate.

This might explain the poor showing of CDC lab employees, who were largely found to have a poor understanding of the agency's accident response protocols.

"Disturbingly, the negative responses peak among those individuals who work at BSL3 and 4, especially among those holding a master's degree," the report said.

BSL refers to "biosafety level," a measure of how dangerous the biological agents are that a lab works with. Levels 3 and 4 are reserved for the most dangerous agents, such as Ebola.

The report also found that some CDC labs appear more concerned with bioterrorism security than with employee safety. For example, the investigation revealed that CDC staff's response to the 2014 avian flu mix-up focused more on breaches of security protocol than on the failure of safety measures.

The investigators also found that a "significant percentage" of CDC staff surveyed said they feared negative repercussions for reporting safety breaches, either for their own job or for the agency as a whole.

Finally, the report found that proposed research is regularly approved without risk assessments. Even when assessments are conducted, they are not performed in a standardized manner.

The report makes nearly 20 recommendations for the agency.

The findings confirm the concerns raised by a House subcommittee in July, said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.

"Our oversight work revealed an agency desperately in need of a rededication to safety and accountability," Murphy said. "Given the nature of its work with dangerous toxins and deadly pathogens, the CDC must be held to a much higher standard than other government entities."


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