Scientists belonging to an Atlanta lab, numbering 84, have been possibly exposed to live, active anthrax bacteria, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDS).
A week ago, the CDC's bioterror rapid response and advanced technology laboratory discovered to their shock that they had inadvertently sent live anthrax bacteria out to scientists in three other labs.
AdvertisementOne of the labs that received the samples was a bioterror facility that had proper security procedures in place to handle infectious agents.
The other two labs that received anthrax samples were not better equipped due to their lower biosecurity level. During disposal, they discovered live spores of anthrax in the agar plates.
CDC investigators suspect that the workers might have been possibly exposed to the bacteria through air.
The labs have been closed down to carry out decontamination work.
The 84 workers potentially exposed to the bacteria will be monitored closely and will receive vaccines and antibiotics if any health risks are found.
Anthrax infects both humans and animals and in most cases is lethal.
Through anthrax is not transmitted from one animal or person to another directly, it is spread through spores
The spores get reactivated and grow in large numbers when inhaled or ingested or by contact with a skin lesion on a host.
The symptoms don't show up immediately but may take nearly two months to surface.
The incident has raised concern in U.S. Congress about poor safety procedures in place in bioterror labs and may warrant a congressional hearing to protect federal employees from potential infection.
"This certainly may rise to the level of a congressional hearing, especially in light of the fact that not too terribly long ago there were other incidents. Although they're unrelated, they both speak to a breakdown in protocol," said Republican Representative Michael Burgess, a physician who sits on a second CDC oversight panel, the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had issued a warning to Congress about possibility of risk due to laboratory accidents.
Meanwhile, the CDC released a statement assuring staff, family members and the public that the labs would remain closed until they are made entirely risk free.
"CDC's guiding principles for laboratory work are to ensure the safety of all staff and the community and be as transparent as possible about our work as we conduct high-quality scientific research to protect people in this country and around the world."