CDC resumes tuberculosis lab transfers halted after anthrax mishap

Thu Jul 24, 2014 2:24pm EDT

Centers for Disease Control Biotechnology Core Facility (Building 23) is shown in Atlanta, Georgia June 20, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Centers for Disease Control Biotechnology Core Facility (Building 23) is shown in Atlanta, Georgia June 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Tami Chappell

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(Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday lifted a moratorium on transfers of inactivated materials from its clinical tuberculosis laboratory, after a bioterror lab mishap last month potentially exposed workers to live anthrax, prompting the halt of transfers from other high-containment labs.

The tuberculosis lab, which last year processed more than 500 specimens from around the United States, is the first of the CDC's high-containment labs to be cleared to resume transfers of biological materials. Its other such labs remain on hold, the CDC said.

The CDC also announced on Thursday the members of a new panel of independent experts who will advise CDC's director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, on safety issues and corrective actions for the agency's labs.

The 11-member panel, scheduled to meet in August, is chaired by Joseph Kanabrocki, a microbiology professor and assistant dean for biosafety at the University of Chicago. Its co-chair is Dr. Kenneth Berns, a professor emeritus in the molecular genetics and microbiology department at the University of Florida's college of medicine in Gainesville.

In the wake of the anthrax mishap, federal health officials launched a probe that uncovered other incidents, including one in which CDC scientists contaminated samples of low-pathogenic bird flu viruses with a highly pathogenic strain and in March shipped them to a Department of Agriculture lab, where the viruses killed all the chickens exposed to them.

The tuberculosis lab was not among those involved in recent incidents. Those labs - one for detecting bioterror agents and another that researches influenza - remain closed. No one appears to have been exposed or become ill as a result of the incidents.

The agency is now reviewing safety procedures at every high-containment lab before allowing them to resume shipping out materials to other labs. Labs that support direct patient care are being treated as a priority.

The tuberculosis lab uses heat to kill bacteria sampled from patients. It sends the inactivated bacteria to a lower-level lab for genetic analysis to determine whether patients carry multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis, and which drugs will most effectively treat them.

The lab had to lay out a plan detailing safety procedures for each step of its inactivation process. Frieden, members of the CDC's internal working panel and the CDC's new director of laboratory safety Dr. Mike Bell all reviewed and approved the plan, the CDC said.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Gunna Dickson)

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