CDC says there were 269 separate, reported incidents of lost or escaped ‘select agent’ microbes in 2010/ Reuters

Not to put too fine a point on it, but today’s Reuters story has even more bad news on safety at our highest containment labs:

According to a 2012 report by CDC scientists, there were 16 incidents of lost or escaped microbes from select-agent labs in 2004, meaning everything from misplaced samples to an infected researcher walking out the door harboring a virus. That rose to 128 in 2008 and 269 in 2010.

There is some good news.  In light of all this, CDC Director Tom Frieden has proposed reducing the number of high containment labs in the US, and at CDC.  Sounds like a great idea! Also from the Reuters story:

    In the wake of disclosures that top government labs mishandled anthrax, smallpox and avian flu, U.S. health authorities are considering the once unthinkable: cutting the burgeoning number of labs working with the planet’s most dangerous microbes.

    When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week unveiled a report documenting multiple safety breaches at its labs, its director for the first time suggested the country turn back the rapid-fire proliferation of such research units, which have tripled in little more than a decade to at least 1,500. 

    “One of the things that we want to do is reduce the number of laboratories that work with dangerous agents to the absolute minimum necessary,” said CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden. “Reduce the number of people who have access to those laboratories to the absolute minimum necessary. Reduce the number of dangerous pathogens we work with.” 

    His remarks may vindicate the views of a small group of biosafety and biosecurity experts who see that as the only way to protect dangerous viruses and bacteria from both lab accidents and thefts…. 

UPDATE:  US Government purges more than half the members of an NIH biosafety advisory board, including several anthrax experts.  Guess the executive branch has its own ideas about the kind of advice it wants, and feared it might not be forthcoming from this group.  See email sent to the 11 members here.

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