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Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to determine whether the procedure they used to kill anthrax may have killed the deadly bacteria before it was sent to other labs.
According to NY Times, the incident occurred when one of the most secure labs that the CDC is in charge of slipped up. They failed to inactivate the bacteria completely before sending it to a less-secure lab.
The incident was discovered, accidentally, on June 13, by which time dozens of employees had potentially been exposed to the bacteria.
If the team of scientists is right, according to Reuters, it means dozens of staff members who were given vaccines for anthrax may have never been in danger of contracting infection from the bacteria.
"We are still figuring out exactly what happened," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in an interview with Reuters. "It's not clear at this point whether infectious material actually left the high-containment lab."
Researchers are working on retracing the steps that led to approximately 84 staff members to become exposed to the bacteria between June 6 and 13. The newest research shows that before the bacteria was transferred to Atlanta, where the staff was exposed, it was inactivated by sitting in a bath of acid for 24 hours.
What the CDC does not know is if that was long enough to fully inactivate the bacteria or not.
Why the team sent the anthrax to the lab in Atlanta without waiting the standard 48 hours is still under investigation.
“The idea is to see how much time it takes to kill everything in that solution,” said Dr. Paul Meechan, a CDC researcher.
These efforts will help the CDC determine whether their employees need to continue taking antibiotics to ward off infection from the bacteria.