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CDC accidentally contaminated bird flu samples because scientist had to rush to a meeting

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A government lab team discovered a potentially hazardous bird flu contamination issue and didn't report it until other scientists began to notice that something was off a full month later, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a report released today. The report describes the latest in a growing line of safety blunders, and this adds quite a few to the list. First, one government scientist rushed through a procedure and, in the process, contaminated a tame strain of bird flu with one that would be quite hazardous to humans. Afterward, when a second lab discovered the contamination, it failed to report it, despite protocol.

The CDC would really like its employees to follow protocol

The initial contamination happened back in January, but the issue wasn't discovered until late May, after a sample had been shipped to another lab. It then wasn't until late June that the original lab noticed that something was off in the samples that it had sent out, finally prompting the second lab to disclose its finding. All contaminated samples were destroyed shortly thereafter, and animals that had been exposed to the samples for testing were euthanized and incinerated.

While the CDC can't say precisely what happened within its lab that caused the contamination, it's fairly certain that it happened because scientists hadn't followed correct procedure. During a procedure that was supposed to take an hour and a half, a CDC researcher spent just 51 minutes in the lab — "substantially less" time than was necessary to properly follow protocol, the report says. The researcher had apparently been rushing in order to attend a noon meeting.

This report follows several other government safety scares this year. In June, CDC employees were accidentally exposed to anthrax bacteria, and in July, the FDA discovered that it had left vials of smallpox lying around for about 60 years.