Wednesday was not a good day for government agencies that deal with infectious agents.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in the hot seat during a hearing held by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. Frieden was grilled about unsafe practices at the CDC, which resulted in employees being exposed to anthrax spores and other dangerous samples.
Last month, the anthrax was sent from one lab to another without being killed off, and could have infected people along the way. It was a "tipping point," Friedan said, showing the CDC that it needs to take a hard look at safety procedures. A memo by the subcommittee stated that employees did not know how to decontaminate the laboratory, physical exams were delayed, and the amount and location of the anthrax bacteria weren't recorded. A molecular biologist, Richard H. Ebright, testified that it is a conflict of interest for the CDC to fund and conduct research while overseeing its safety practices. He suggested that an independent agency regulate the research instead.
Officials also announced that the vials of freeze-dried smallpox found in a Food and Drug Administration lab on July 1 were part of a larger collection that included 327 vials of dengue, influenza, Q fever, and other infectious agents. While a few of the vials were destroyed, most were sent to the National Bioforensic Analysis Center, and officials said they were not sure if any of the materials ever posed a threat.