CDC issues progress report on its efforts to assure the safety of its laboratories

Aug. 25, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a series of updates and actions taken showing its progress in laboratory safety. Among other topics, CDC reported findings of an internal CDC investigation of last spring’s much-publicized H5N1 flu lab incident, and actions taken in response to findings of two investigations of that incident.

“CDC is working intensively to make our labs models not only of scientific rigor but also of safety,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “We will implement changes identified in these reviews—and more—so that we can continue the critical laboratory science needed to protect health in the United States and around the world.”

On May 23, 2014, there was an inadvertent cross-contamination of a low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) A (H9N2) virus sample with a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) virus, and the contaminated culture was subsequently shipped to an external high-containment laboratory. The CDC report summarizes the circumstances related to this event, outlines how it may have happened, and provides recommendations for preventing similar incidents in the future.

The report found that:

  • The incident did not appear to have posed a safety risk, since the virus was handled solely under laboratory conditions appropriate for containment of HPAI H5N1 virus (biosafety level 3 with enhancements, or BSL-3E), and was shipped with proper permits and packaging.
  • The contamination most likely happened due to the failure of a laboratory scientist to adhere to established best practices and the absence of an approved laboratory team-specific protocol for the work being done.

Read a Washington Post report on this story.

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