Could a CDC Mistake Have Caused Another Outbreak of Ebola?

It is an understatement to say that the country was quite shocked when Thomas Eric Duncan, a 45-year-old man in Dallas, was diagnosed with Ebola in late September. Many Americans had perceived the Ebola virus to be a geologically-isolated threat that had no chance of affecting them, but their feelings changed when on September 30, when news of the diagnosis came out. After the initial patient was quarantined, it was discovered that the two nurses that were treating him, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, had also caught and had possibly transmitted the disease. Another doctor, Craig Spencer, was also quarantined in New York City after he reported his symptoms to the city’s health commission. Thankfully, all of these people survived, with the exception of Duncan, who died on October 8, and Ebola was successfully contained in the United States. Yet, there has been a recent development that will certainly invoke anger and fear.

On Tuesday, a CDC spokesman, Thomas Skinner announced that a mistake in a CDC laboratory could have exposed a technician to a sample of the Ebola virus. A sample of Ebola that was being utilized for research by the CDC was mistakenly sent to a slightly less-secure laboratory in the agency’s Atlanta headquarters. There, the technician came into contact with the virus. However, the exposed technician was placed under observation for any signs of the virus and officials are trying to test any employees who entered the same laboratory where the virus was being kept. The live samples were also contained and currently do not pose a risk to the general public. Ultimately, we must consider how the CDC, a government agency assigned to carefully research pathogens and other dangerous biological organisms, committed a mistake that could have could have caused an epidemic in the United States.

This recent mistake by the CDC has been one of many that the agency has been criticized for in the recent months. For example, an investigation in June showed that nearly 80 workers were possibly exposed to numerous strains of lethal anthrax bacteria. Then, in July, an separate audit of another laboratory in Atlanta found that cultures of anthrax were being stored in unguarded refrigerators and that bacterial samples were being transported in Ziploc bags. CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden responded to the findings by stating, “We are monitoring the health of one technician who could possibly have been exposed and I have directed that there be a full review of every aspect of the incident and that CDC take all necessary measures.” It suffices to say that the CDC definitely needs some more oversight into their practices. A professional agency like the CDC needs to treat the harmful pathogens that they research with caution, not like a moldy sandwich that you find and throw out after discovering it in your lunch bag.

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