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75 CDC Lab Workers Might Have Been Exposed to Anthrax

Update Date: Jun 20, 2014 10:10 AM EDT

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that as many as 75 lab workers might have been exposed to the bacteria, Bacillus antracis, more commonly known as anthrax. The agency stated that the "risk of infection is very low" and all of the staffers have been treated with antibiotics as a precaution.

"Based on the review to date, CDC believes that other CDC staff, family members, and the general public are not at risk of exposure and do not need to take any protective action," the agency reported in a news release.

According to the CDC, the exposure occurred when the bacteria were being transferred from one lab to another. Scientist working at the CDC's higher level biosafety labs located in Atlanta, GA had created anthrax samples so that researchers from a lower lab can study them. However, the lab workers in the higher labs did not adequately inactivate the samples before transferring them to the other labs, which are not equppied to handle live anthrax. Since the workers in the lower labs did not know that the samples were active, they handled them without any protective gear.

When the original bacterial plates were collected for disposal this past Friday, June 13, workers surprisingly found live bacteria. The agency immediately notified all staffers who might have came into contact with the B. anthracis colonies. The CDC also conducted environmental testing in all of the labs and hallways to ensure that the disease did not become airborne. Everything was decontaminated and has been declared safe.

"We are devastated. It is unacceptable. This is what we do best," Paul Mecham of CDC's Environment Health and Safety Compliance Office stated according to ABC News. "Our people are our number one resource. We are going to find out what went wrong and we are going to fix it."

The agency added according to Philly, "Given that CDC expert protocols were not followed, disciplinary action(s) will be taken as necessary."

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