CDC seeks more clues to bioterror lab accident

by Alison Young  |  published on March 10, 2015

Federal health investigators are back at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana this week seeking the source of the lab accident that has somehow exposed at least seven monkeys to a deadly bioterror bacteria. State officials, meanwhile, are planning to test wildlife and domestic animals in the surrounding area for possible exposure.

Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began arriving Monday at the sprawling laboratory and monkey breeding compound north of New Orleans. The CDC will be taking a closer work at worker safety and health practices in the center’s veterinary hospital, said agency spokesman Jason McDonald. The hospital has been suspected as the site of the monkeys’ exposure last fall to the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is not found in the United States.

Despite several weeks of investigation, officials still don’t how the bacteria escaped a secure lab elsewhere at the 500-acre research complex, nor do they know the extent of the contamination — including whether bacteria have colonized soil or water in the huge outdoor primate breeding colony cages on the property. The outdoor monkey cages are near a school, homes, wetlands and a river.

The monkeys were not part of experiments and should have never crossed paths with the bacterium, which can cause serious and fatal illness in humans and animals that may not develop for days to years after exposure. The bacterium is highly regulated as a research material because of its potential to be used in a bioweapon. The bacterium is found primarily in soil and water in Southeast Asia and northern Australia.

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