Lacking a chief of laboratory safety, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is finally recruiting for the sorely needed role after a scientist was possibly exposed to the Ebola virus on Dec. 25 2014. The center’s urgency to fill the position also came in light of previous multiple mishandling of anthrax and avian flu viruses last summer.
After what seemed to be the third mishandling of potentially deadly pathogens in the CDC labs, Barbara Reynolds, a CDC spokeswoman, said in an email that the safety chief position is “under recruitment,” according to Reuters. "The person selected will be empowered to identify problems, establish plans to solve them, and hold programs throughout CDC accountable for follow-up," Reynolds said.
The position was created in November prior to the Ebola mishandling case, but this is the first time the search to fill position has been reported. The search is being led by Dr. Rima Khabbaz, director of CDC’s Office of Infectious Diseases, according to Reuters.
"This is going to bring a focus to lab science and safety that has been really needed for two decades," said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, a national group of laboratories that work closely with the CDC, to Reuters.
“CDC has made many improvements in laboratory safety, and continues to do so,” Reynolds said in an email, according to Bloomberg. The agency had announced in July it would create a single point of accountability for lab safety following the Ebola mishandling mishap.
An unidentified scientist who was working in a CDC laboratory in Atlanta was supposed to be working with an inactivated specimen of the virus in June 2014. However, it turns out that the scientist was accidentally sent live samples and no one at the facility verified it. The scientist, who was not wearing protective gear recommended for handling live Ebola, was thus exposed. The scientist was monitored and did not show symptoms of contracting the virus, which has killed 7,905 people in the three worst-hit countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.
In June last year, more than 80 CDC workers were exposed to anthrax when the bacteria was likewise failed to be inadequately deactivated, leading to the resignation of a CDC lab director. Similarly, the CDC accidentally shipped a deadly strain of avian flu that has killed 386 people since 2003 to the United States Agriculture Department laboratory when they were expected a benign flu sample in March. The laboratories responsible for the mix-ups have since been closed as their safety protocols are being examined. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, tasked CDC microbiologist Dr. Leslie Dauphin to oversee lab safety until the laboratory safety chief position is filled, according to Reuters.