Post 123 – Smallpox, Anthrax and Influenza in the news (BioLevel labs at the CDC)

My BSL4 Post is probably the most popular one I have, and CDC’s BioLevel 2-3-4 laboratories have been making enough news this week to last a couple of more blog posts.

Tuesday, July 8 – Reports surface of 6 vials of smallpox virus from 1954 that were found in a cold storage room used by the FDA on the NIH’s Bethesda campus. The area used to be used by the NIH but was transferred to the FDA in 1972! The FBI and other law enforcement agencies assisted in transferring these vials to the CDC for testing the day before. The CDC is one of two labs worldwide authorized by the World Health Organization to handle smallpox (the other one is the VECTOR Institute in in Novosibirsk,Russia). I believe this would be a BioLevel 4 lab.

Today – CDC announces that at least 2 of the smallpox vials contain live virus. They also set up a press conference where the CDC Director states he is disappointed, upset and angry over additional incidents, this time originating from CDC labs. Highly contagious strains were removed from proper BSL locations, causing potential spread of hard-to-control bugs. The Director states that labs failed to follow standard operating procedures, didn’t do proper sterilization techniques, and didn’t have proper supervision.

One of these events has to do with anthrax. The original June 19 reports, revised on June 23 on CNN, state that as many as 86 workers may have been exposed to anthrax because a lab “did not adequately inactivate the [anthrax]” before they were moved to other labs for experiments. People in these labs thought the anthrax was inactivated, they did not have proper protective equipment to prevent their exposure.

The final report on this Anthrax exposure was released today – – with a quick-reference image on the CDC website. This image gives you an idea of some procedures that occur in research labs.

While doing this investigation, the CDC Director just found out a second event less than two days ago where a shipment of “low-pathogenic” bird flu H9N2 that was going to a USDA lab was contaminated with the highly infectious bird flu strain H5N1.

As a result of these two incidents, CDC is issuing, effective immediately, a moratorium on the movement (i.e., transfer inside or outside the agency) of biological materials (i.e., infectious agents, active or inactivated specimens) from BSL3 or BSL-4 facilities. The moratorium will remain in place pending review by an advisory committee.

I might go through these superbugs some more in the future, but here’s a quick summary:


Smallpox is caused by a virus in the Variola genus. It causes skin rash and blisters.

Smallpox killed a third of those who contracted it for about 3,000 years until it was declared globally eradicated by routine vaccination in 1979, according to the World Health Organization. We’re not even vaccinated for it anymore. Only two labs are authorized to hold these viruses since – as stated above, the CDC and VECTOR).


Caused by Bacillus anthracis. There have been numerous public scares, such as finding anthrax in the mail, between 2001 and 2011.

There are 3 ways anthrax can cause an illness: absorbed through the skin, breathed in through the lungs or ingested through the gastrointestinal tract. Early signs and symptoms all look like the flu. These workers were given antibiotics or vaccine.

Bird Flu

It’s a type of influenza A virus that reportedly lives among birds. There are many strains, including one strain, N5H1 that is highly infectious, with outbreaks since 1987. Outbreaks are common in southeast Asia, where high concentrations of chicken and other birds live among people.


okay that was a long article. i’m going to sleep now…


One comment

  1. From yesterday – The head of the bioterrorism lab involved in potentially exposing dozens of workers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deadly anthrax bacteria has resigned. Michael Farrell, who headed the Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology (BRRAT) Laboratory, submitted his resignation Tuesday, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told CNN.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: