SOURCES: Dec. 24, 2014, statement, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Washington Post; Associated Press; USA Today
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A lab technician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have been exposed to the Ebola virus in an agency laboratory in Atlanta earlier this week.
And up to a dozen other lab workers are being checked for possible exposure, CDC officials said late Wednesday afternoon.
The possible exposure occurred Monday when CDC scientists doing research on Ebola mistakenly transferred a sample of the potentially lethal virus to another CDC lab in the same building, the Washington Post reported.
The sample, on a sealed plate, should not have been moved to the second, less secure laboratory, the CDC said in a statement.
There is no risk to the public because the sample never left the building, CDC officials said.
The technician who handled the material has no symptoms of Ebola infection and will be monitored for 21 days, the incubation period for the disease. The other employees who entered the lab will be checked for possible exposure. So far, none of them seems to have been exposed to the virus, the agency said.
"I am troubled by this incident in our Ebola research laboratory in Atlanta," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in the statement. "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."
The error was discovered by laboratory scientists on Tuesday. The lab area had already been decontaminated and the sample material destroyed -- as part of routine procedure -- before the mistake was discovered. The lab was decontaminated for a second time and is now closed, the Associated Press reported.
The Ebola virus has been rampant in West Africa since the spring, with nearly 20,000 infections and almost 7,600 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
This week's incident is the latest in a string of handling mishaps by the CDC.
Following a highly publicized incident last summer, federal health officials concluded that it was highly unlikely that any CDC lab workers in Atlanta were exposed to live anthrax during a safety mix-up.
Initial reports had indicated that one of the CDC's high-level biosafety labs was preparing anthrax samples for research in lower-level labs. The high-level lab did not adequately inactivate the samples before sending them to the other labs, which aren't equipped to handle live anthrax samples. Workers at the lower-level labs, believing the samples were inactivated, weren't wearing proper protective equipment while handling them, the agency said at the time.
The CDC is considered one of the world's leading public health agencies. But, according to USA Today, agency labs have been repeatedly cited in private government audits for failing to properly secure bioterror agents, according to restricted government watchdog reports obtained by the newspaper earlier this year.
CDC labs house some of the most deadly germs in the world, including Ebola, SARS, monkeypox and dangerous flu strains.
For more on the Ebola virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.