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CDC Credibility Threatened By 'Inconsistent' Laboratory Protocols

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been slammed by an external advisory committee over "inconsistent and insufficient" safety commitments. The report points out that the agency's laboratory safety training is also inadequate.

The external committee completed the report on Jan. 13, but the CDC published the report on its website just recently.

The CDC was involved in some major blunders in 2014, which prompted a review by the external committee. The report points out that safety is currently not part of the CDC culture.

In early 2014, the CDC was responsible for sending cross-contaminated biological specimen of a bird flu strain from one facility to another. The said bird flu sample was unintentionally mixed with the H5N1 influenza virus then shipped to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In June 2014, some agency scientists mishandled live specimen of anthrax, which placed more than 80 CDC employees at risk of the disease. The head of the lab responsible for the error resigned following the incident.

The CDC was also criticized for the way it handled Ebola virus specimen in December 2014. The incident led the agency to monitor a worker in the lab during a 21-day incubation period for possible infection. However, the lab worker did not test positive for Ebola and did not fall sick.

"[The] CDC is an incredibly capable organization and its value in promoting the health of our society cannot be lost. We are very concerned that the CDC is on the way to losing credibility. The CDC must not see itself as 'special.' The internal controls and rules that the rest of the world works under also apply to the CDC. There is need for a CDC systematic approach characterized by high-level leadership support and intervention," stated [pdf] the report.

The committee has made some recommendations, which include improved safety training; the increased level of communication within the CDC, between and among staff; and enhanced protocols for quality control. The advisory panel also highlights the creation of a new role in the agency that will directly manage matters that are connected to consistent procedures.

The CDC has conducted an internal investigation following each incident. The recommendations included the installation of cameras in labs and certification for transferring samples from one lab to another.

The feedback given by the external advisory committee is crucial to the agency. Some of the recommendations made by the panel are also already underway.

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