Via PilotOnline.com, an AP report: Probe of military labs expands to plague, encephalitis. Excerpt:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding its investigation into possible mishandling and improper shipment by Defense Department laboratories of organisms that cause deadly diseases, including plague and encephalitis, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Concerns about the handling of those samples led the Army to announce a moratorium on production, shipping and handling of toxins at nine labs last week. But officials did not acknowledge until Thursday that plague and encephalitis samples were involved.
When asked why the Pentagon didn’t disclose the new concerns about plague and encephalitis last week, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that officials were trying to be as forthcoming as possible “without alarming the public.”
He added that officials are waiting for the results of the investigation.
In a statement Thursday, the CDC said it was investigating four Defense Department labs as a result of spot checks at two facilities. The Army said the spot checks were at Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center and U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, both in Maryland.
“CDC has identified a number of transfers of concern involving multiple organisms,” the CDC said, adding that the investigation is trying to determine whether there are record-keeping or quality-management problems or if there were shipment violations involving the toxins. “At this time, there is nothing to suggest risk to the health of workers or the general public.”
According to the CDC, most of the transfers were between Defense Department facilities. In a separate statement, the Army said the CDC raised questions about a particular organism that causes plague — known as Yersinia pestis — during an Aug. 17 inspection at Edgewood. The CDC questioned whether the organism was fully virulent, even though it was stored in an area designated for non-fully virulent materials.
Cook said he believes that a sample was in a freezer in a controlled setting but outside a containment area, and the CDC questioned whether it was an infectious form of plague.
The Army said that initial tests suggest the strain was not fully virulent, and the CDC is working to verify those tests.
“There is no indication that anyone has been exposed from handling this strain and no one has become sick,” the Army said, adding that the sample was immediately contained and properly stored.
In addition, the Army said the CDC questioned the labeling of a strain of equine encephalitis viruses, and whether it was properly handled.