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Lethal bird flu cocktail sent out of lab accidentally, went unreported – CDC

China out / AFP Photo

China out / AFP Photo

A scientist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to tell superiors that a worker had mixed a lethal strain of bird flu with a more benign one, even though that mixed strain was shipped out to another laboratory.

According an internal investigation into the matter, the dangerous bird flu cocktail was then administered to chickens as part of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in which all of the chickens ended up dying. As a result, USDA officials took another look at the bird flu samples in May and notified the CDC that a deadly strain of the virus was detected inside.

No people fell ill due to the bird flu strain, the Associated Press reported, but it apparently remained in circulation for months – it was originally concocted in January – before scientists picked up on what was wrong.

After the CDC confirmed the USDA’s findings, the team member in charge chose not to notify those higher in the chain of command, reportedly because “the viral mix was at all times contained in specialized laboratories and was never a threat to the public.”

However, when another lab reported similar problems – a Maryland facility reported that more than 300 vials containing influenza, dengue, and other pathogens were discovered in an unused storage room – the team leader brought the dangerous bird flu strain to the attention of more senior officials.

Although it’s unclear exactly how the bird flu strain was created, the report did clarify a couple of things. The lethal strain was supposed to be handled separately from the less dangerous one, and the entire process should take at least 90 minutes. The scientist involved, however, completed his work in only 51 minutes in order to rush to a meeting, meaning that it’s very likely “shortcuts” were taken. The CDC told the AP “it’s possible the scientist worked on both strains at the same time.”

This revelation comes in the wake of previous reports about lax safety at CDC laboratories. As RTreported in June, about 84 scientists were potentially exposed to anthrax after employees failed to properly sterilize the deadly bacteria. Although no one became sick and no reports of exposure have been filed, the eye-opening incident sparked an investigation that revealed multiple failures in safety protocol.

“These events revealed totally unacceptable behavior,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said at the time. “They should never have happened. I’m upset, I’m angry, I’ve lost sleep over this, and I’m working on it until the issue is resolved.”

Both the flu lab and the anthrax lab have been closed, and the anthrax lab director has since resigned.

Another investigation, meanwhile, found that dangerous microbes and “unidentified materials” were transported between labs in plastic Ziploc bags – containers which fail to meet the CDC’s “durability” requirement. In some cases, anthrax samples were found to be missing and had to be tracked down, while others were placed in unlocked labs not authorized to store the deadly bacteria.

“An internal investigation found serious safety lapses, including use of an unapproved sterilization technique and use of a potent type of anthrax in an experiment that did not require a live form of the germ,” the Associated Press reported in July.

Taliban torch hundreds of ‘NATO-supplying’ fuel trucks near Kabul

 

Published time: July 05, 2014 12:47

Burned-out fuel trucks are seen following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

An assault by militants at a large parking lot on the outskirts of Afghan capital, Kabul, Friday night left at least 200 fuel tankers incinerated. The Taliban said the privately-owned tankers were targeted because they supply foreign troops.

“The number of tankers on fire is not yet clear, but based on preliminary reports from police around 200 tankers have been burned,” Reuters cited the Afghan Interior Ministry as saying.

AP, meanwhile, reported that 400 tankers had been burned out.

Taliban fighters fired four RPG rockets at a logistics compound in the Paghman district of the capital, said Hashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for the Kabul police, confirming that the number of burned-out vehicles could reach 400.

Police are still investigating the case and though no casualties have yet to be reported “we fear the worst,” Stanekzai said, adding that fire had continued for a long time.

Smoke and flames rise from buring fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

Smoke and flames rise from buring fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

Other sources said the insurgents also planted magnetic bombs to set the tankers on fire.

“It was a magnetic bomb that caused the fuel tankers to catch fire,” said Gul Aghan Hashimi, criminal investigations director of the Kabul police, AFP reported.

Afghan firefighters attempt to extinguish burning fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

Afghan firefighters attempt to extinguish burning fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

The attackers were in uniforms so the Afghan security forces and drivers were confused and could not understand what was going on.

“If it was the Taliban or other people, they were dressed in uniform we couldn’t understand what was happening. They were shooting towards the drivers and also they were setting tankers on fire, any of the drivers who wanted to turn on their truck, [the attackers] would target them,” fuel tanker driver Juma Gul told AP.

In a statement early Saturday to the media, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Our brave Mujahideen fighters in a special tactic have set ablaze hundreds of fuel tankers in the west of Kabul, which were supplying fuel and food for foreign forces,” he said.

Afghan firefighters attempt to extinguish burning fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

Afghan firefighters attempt to extinguish burning fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

Taliban fighters have been attacking convoys bringing supplies for NATO-led forces in landlocked Afghanistan for years now, but tankers have recently become their primary target.

The previous attack on fuel tankers took place June 19, when an attack of Taliban suicide bombers on a convoy of fuel trucks at the Pakistan border triggered a firefight between police guards and Islamist insurgents, resulting in 37 fuel trucks being burned.

ISAF troops, the US-led international contingent in Afghanistan, get most of their fuel supplies via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

An Afghan resident walks past burned-out fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

An Afghan resident walks past burned-out fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

The ISAF supply route via Pakistan has never been secure, because of the Taliban’s activities there and because the authorities in Islamabad and locals have more than once blocked the route because of thedrone war the US government is waging against the Islamists in the country, and also because offriendly fire incidents involving the US Air Force.

Afghan residents look on as smoke rises from buring fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

Afghan residents look on as smoke rises from buring fuel trucks following an overnight attack by Taliban militants in Chawk-e-Arghandi on outskirts of Kabul on July 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

In June, the US military finally closed its key transit center at the Manas airport near Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. During the 12 1/2 years of the Afghan military campaign the facility remained the primary air supply hub for the ISAF’s contingent in the war zone.

In 2012, Russia allowed NATO to use not only ground, but also aerial, routes for the transit of weapons and military hardware to and from Afghanistan.

Now that the tensions between Moscow and Washington over the unfolding civil war in Ukraine are higher than ever, the US military has to consider the challenge of transporting millions of pieces of military assets out of Afghanistan when all possible exit routes – including through Russia – are blocked.