Was Ebola Accidentally Released from a Bioweapons Lab In West Africa?
Accidents at Germ Labs Have Occurred Worldwide
Nations such as Russia, South Africa and the U.S. have long conducted research into how to make deadly germs even more deadly. And accidents at these research facilities have caused germs to escape, killing people and animals near the facilities.
For example, the Soviet research facility at Sverdlovsk conducted anthrax research during the Cold War. They isolated the most potent strain of anthrax culture and then dried it to produce a fine powder for use as an aerosol. In 1979, an accident at the facility released anthrax, killing 100.
The U.S. has had its share of accidents. USA Today noted in August:
More than 1,100 laboratory incidents involving bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose significant or bioterror risks to people and agriculture were reported to federal regulators during 2008 through 2012, government reports obtained by USA TODAY show.
In two other incidents, animals were inadvertently infected with contagious diseases that would have posed significant threats to livestock industries if they had spread. One case involved the infection of two animals with hog cholera, a dangerous virus eradicated from the USA in 1978. In another incident, a cow in a disease-free herd next to a research facility studying the bacteria that cause brucellosis, became infected ….
The issue of lab safety and security has come under increased scrutiny by Congress in recent weeks after a series of high-profile lab blunders at prestigious government labs involving anthrax, bird flu and smallpox virus.
The new lab incident data indicate mishaps occur regularly at the more than 1,000 labs operated by 324 government, university and private organizations across the country ….
“More than 200 incidents of loss or release of bioweapons agents from U.S. laboratories are reported each year. This works out to more than four per week,” said Richard Ebright, a biosafety expert at Rutgers university in New Jersey, who testified before Congress last month at a hearing about CDC’s lab mistakes.
The only thing unusual about the CDC’s recent anthrax and bird flu lab incidents, Ebright said, is that the public found out about them. “The 2014 CDC anthrax event became known to the public only because the number of persons requiring medical evaluation was too high to conceal,” he said.
CDC officials were unavailable for interviews and officials with the select agent program declined to provide additional information. The USDA said in a statement Friday that “all of the information is protected under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.”
Such secrecy is a barrier to improving lab safety ….
Gronvall notes that even with redundant systems in high-security labs, there have been lab incidents resulting in the spread of disease to people and animals outside the labs.
She said a lab accident is considered by many scientists to be the most likely source of the re-emergence in 1977 of an H1N1 flu strain that had disappeared in 1957 because the genetic makeup of the strain hadn’t changed as it should have over those decades. A 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine noted the 1977 strain was so similar to the one that disappeared that it suggests it had been “preserved” and that the re-emergence was “probably an accidental release from a laboratory source.”
In 2012, CDC staff published an article in the journal Applied Biosafety on select agent theft, loss and releases from 2004 through 2010, documenting 727 reported incidents, 11 lab-acquired infections and one loss of a specimen in transit among more than 3,400 approved shipments.
The article noted that the number of reports received by CDC likely underestimates the true number of suspected losses and releases.