A mishap at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta may have exposed a lab worker to to the Ebola virus.
The CDC said the incident happened after an Ebola sample researchers were working on in a high-security lab was mistakenly transferred to a lower-security lab on the CDC campus. A technician in the second lab who processed the sample may have been exposed and will be monitored for 21 days for any signs of illness.
The CDC said there was no exposure outside of the lab and no risk to the public. The lab has been decontaminated twice and will remain closed while the incident is investigated.
"I am troubled by this incident in our Ebola research laboratory in Atlanta," CDC director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "We are monitoring the health of one technician who could possibly have been exposed and I have directed that there be a full review of every aspect of the incident and that CDC take all necessary measures."
The CDC said several other people who entered the second lab were "assessed for possible exposure" but are not believed to be at risk and do not require monitoring.
The report follows a series of other serious safety lapses at federal labs earlier this year. In June, as many as 84 workers at a CDC bioterror research lab in Atlanta were potentially exposed to live anthrax after safe transfer protocols were not followed. More than 50 workers took antibiotics as a precaution. No illnesses were reported. The head of the lab later stepped down.
Two other CDC labs were temporarily shuttered in July after officials learned that highly infectious samples of bird flu virus were not handled properly.
And that same month at a National Institutes of Health lab in Bethesda, Maryland, decades-old vials of smallpox were discovered in a storage refrigerator. Investigators later confirmed that the lethal bacteria was, in fact, still live.
At a Congressional hearing on June 16, lawmakers blasted CDC director Frieden over lax safety practices. "Sooner or later that luck will run out and someone will get very sick and die," House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee chair Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said during opening remarks.
Since then, the CDC says it has been working to improve safety practices, but the latest incident revived concerns about the way federal labs handle some of the most dangerous pathogens known.
"Thousands of laboratory scientists in more than 150 labs throughout CDC have taken extraordinary steps in recent months to improve safety," Frieden said in the press statement Wednesday. "No risk to staff is acceptable, and our efforts to improve lab safety are essential -- the safety of our employees is our highest priority."