Investigation reveals 100s of mishaps in US high-containment labs
An investigation into more than 200 high-containment labs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by a team of reports for USA Today Network of Gannett newspapers and TV stations revealed hundreds of lab accidents, safety violations, and "near misses," USA Today noted today in a lengthy report.
The report comes on the heels of an incident in which an Army lab in Utah sent live Bacillus anthracis to labs in nine states and South Korea, as well as—it was revealed today—Australia. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today it is investigating that incident.
Examples of USA Today findings include air-purifying respirators failing in H5N1 avian flu experiments, missing vials of pathogens, cattle infected in vaccine experiments being sent to slaughter for human consumption, lab mice infected with deadly viruses escaping, wild rats building nests out of research waste, holes in biosafety-level-4 (BSL-4) protective suits, and unsafe lab practices.
The report also says that even when more than 100 research facilities have committed egregious safety violations, federal regulators do not name the labs. The USA Today Network took on the task of identifying the 200-plus labs after the Government Accountability Office and others pointed out that not even federal officials know how many BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs—the highest-containment levels—exist.
May 29 USA Today full report
May 29 USA Today story on 10 of the incidents
In related news, live B anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, has been found in a 2008 sample sent to Australia from the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which, as noted yesterday, mistakenly shipped live samples of the deadly pathogen to nine US states and an air base in South Korea, a US defense official told Reuters today.
The anonymous official did not know what type of facility in Australia received the sample, which was supposed to be inactivated.
The CDC, in an e-mail to journalists, said it is investigating the issue.
"The CDC investigation was started after a request for technical consultation from a private commercial lab," the agency said. "The lab was working as part of a DoD [Department of Defense] effort to develop a new diagnostic test to identify biological threats. Although an inactivated agent was expected, the lab reported they were able to grow live Bacillus anthracis."
The CDC said it is working with DoD and other federal and state partners to conduct an investigation with all the labs that received samples from the Utah facility. All B anthracis samples are being transferred to CDC or other federal labs for further testing.
May 29 Reuters report on anthrax shipment
May 29 CDC media statement
Rare tick-borne Bourbon virus hits Oklahoma resident
A second US case of the recently discovered tick-borne Bourbon virus has been reported, this time in a resident of Payne County, Oklahoma, according to a story yesterday in the Tulsa World. The first US case occurred in Bourbon County, Kansas, in 2014.
The patient, who became ill earlier this month and has recovered, was tested for Heartland virus with no success; the diagnosis of Bourbon virus was confirmed by the CDC. Because the virus is so new, little is known about its epidemiology.
Unlike bacterial tick-borne diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia, Bourbon virus infection does not respond to antibiotics, and no treatment or vaccine is yet available.
Symptoms include fever, severe muscle and joint pain, fatigue, disorientation, diarrhea, and rash, says the story.
Members of the public who participate in outdoor activities such as hiking and camping are being encouraged by the Oklahoma State Department of Health to follow tick-preventive practices such as wearing light-colored clothing, staying on trails where possible, checking for ticks daily, and using a DEET-based insect repellent—and to seek care promptly if illness occurs after a tick bite or being in a tick-infested area.
May 28 Tulsa World story
Study notes no concerning trends in deaths after vaccination
No concerning trends were noted in an analysis of 17 years' worth of death-related vaccine adverse events data in the United States, according to a study yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
CDC researchers searched the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for reports of death after any vaccination from Jul 1, 1997, through 2013.
VAERS received 2,149 death reports during that period, with 68% in children and a median age of 6 months. About 57% involved males, and death reports generally decreased in more recent years.
The most common causes of death among 1,244 kids with available information were sudden infant death syndrome (44%), asphyxia (6.0%), septicemia (4.9%), and pneumonia (4.6%). Among 526 adults, they were circulatory diseases (46.9%), respiratory diseases (14.6%), certain infections and parasitic diseases (11.8%), and malignant neoplasms (3.8%).
The authors conclude, "No concerning pattern was noted among death reports submitted to VAERS during 1997-2013. The main causes of death were consistent with the most common causes of death in the US population."
May 28 Clin Infect Dis abstract