It’s feared that up to 75 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workers may have been exposed to anthrax, a lethal disease. Officials at the CDC are blaming a lax attitude towards safety procedures for the scare.
Anthrax is actually caused by a germ known as bacillus anthracis, which lives in the soil. Anthrax infections are incredibly rare, and usually affect animals like cattle, sheep, and goats. In cases where humans have been infected, it’s often been from coming into contact with infected animals or animal by-products.
The CDC says that workers in four of its labs are currently being provided antibiotics and monitored round-the-clock to see if they develop the symptoms of anthrax, which range from vomiting and diarrhea to painful skin lesions.
The good news: CDC representatives have said they’re taking drastic measures “out of an abundance of caution” and ultimately feel that the “risk of infection is very low.”
Still, the situation is alarming. Initial reports have indicated that the scare was caused by a significant miscommunication between two labs. Specifically, a more advanced CDC biosafety laboratory failed to inactivate anthrax samples before sending them to a less advanced lab lacking the tools necessary to deal with live anthrax. When workers at the latter lab received the samples, they assumed they had been inactivated — meaning workers failed to use the equipment typically employed by CDC employees handling live anthrax.
Although the slip up occurred a couple weeks ago, the threat wasn’t discovered until Friday, June 13.
Aside from monitoring the workers it fears might have been exposed, the CDC is also carrying out an internal review to determine why the organization’s strict safety procedures weren’t carefully followed.