The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify about what he called an “unacceptable” series of safety breaches. Dr. Tom Frieden, who heads the Atlanta-based federal health laboratories, was in Washington to address the mishandling of potentially lethal anthrax spores in June. Since that episode, the agency has revealed there have been other occasions in which scientists at the CDC have mishandled small pox and avian flu virus samples.
In the wake of back-to-back incidents involving dangerous materials, CDC officials say some scientists have become complacent about following safety rules. A report released Monday found the Atlanta-based federal health laboratories used expired disinfectants and transferred dangerous germs in Ziploc bags after dozens of CDC employees were exposed to live anthrax bacteria in June. The report follows an announcement last week that a dangerous strand of the H5N1 bird flu had been combined with a fairly benign flu sample.
Friday was payday for the CDC’s employees. Or, rather, half a payday. Employees of the Atlanta-based public health agency received roughly half their pay last week due to the federal shutdown. Workers were paid for the one week prior to the shutdown, but the second week of the pay period was affected by the shutdown.
The government shutdown has damaged the CDC’s ability to detect and prevent disease, the agency’s director said Monday. Roughly 9,000 of the 13,000 employees of the Atlanta-based public health agency have been furloughed by the shutdown.
More than 250 people in at least six states have come down with a stomach bug that could be linked to foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control says the cyclospora infection causing diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms has been reported in Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and Connecticut.
Health officials say West Nile virus season is off to a menacing start, with more serious illnesses reported so far this year than any since 2004. The bulk are in Texas, especially around the Dallas area, though two cases have been reported in metro Atlanta.