Days after the government revealed the discovery of six forgotten vials of smallpox virus in a laboratory building closet at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday shut down two research labs and stopped shipping highly dangerous germs to other labs.

smallpox virus CDC Labs

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden discusses safety problems

Citing an anthrax scare and a recurring problem with safety, the labs were temporarily closed as the safety problems were discussed Friday by CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a press conference.  While announcing tests show that two of the 60-year-old vials had live virus, Frieden said testing is ongoing and the samples will are to be destroyed. No infections have been reported in that incident.

One of the closed facilities could have accidentally exposed workers in three labs to anthrax and a second, previously undisclosed problem earlier this year involved deadly bird flu, reports indicated

While no lab worker or member of the public was sickened in any of the incidents, Frieden took to heart the responsibility CDC is entrusted to operate some of the world’s most advanced and most secure laboratories for the handling of deadly germs.

“I’m just astonished that this could have happened here,” he was quoted as saying.

CDC’s ban on shipping dangerous germs will impact the federal agency’s labs

The CDC’s ban on shipping such highly dangerous germs will impact the federal agency’s labs at its Atlanta headquarters and Fort Collins, Colorado, while the two Atlanta labs where the recent incidents occurred have been temporarily closed.

In light of the mishap, Frieden announced that internal and external review panels will investigate both recent problems and review procedures.  A CDC report on the anthrax incident found several errors and bad decisions, which will be reviewed. The report, for example, said anthrax should not have been used in that lab experiment and the samples used weren’t sterilized as expected.

In the aforementioned flu incident, the CDC said the problem was a sample of an animal flu virus was accidentally contaminated with a deadly bird flu germ. That highly toxic sample was then sent to another government lab, which discovered the contamination during testing. The problem, discovered in May, wasn’t reported to CDC’s top management until this week, Frieden said.