Centers for Disease Control, CDC Labs on Probation over Animal Care & Deaths, News report from Terri Elliott. It is an increasingly toxic and diseased world we live in. So how reliable is the information we get from the Centers for Disease Control?
CDC LABS ON PROBATION!
Agency says it has corrected problems
submitted by Terri Elliott of Buckstrut Farm
Laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on probation with an international accreditation group because of serious problems with animal care, including the deaths of two monkeys who were kept without water, the CDC acknowledged Thursday.
The problems, which CDC Director Julie Gerberding said left her "simply appalled," were uncovered in an August 2005 inspection by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care-International. They were serious enough to put the nation's premier public health agency at risk of losing its accreditation, and some of the problems had persisted since 2002, CDC officials said in interviews, public relations articles and documents posted on the agency Web site.
"I'm very sorry CDC was ever in this situation," Gerberding said in an interview Thursday. She said she was "shocked" to learn of the problems, which she attributed to "a long number of years of benign neglect."
Gerberding said the agency has taken extraordinary steps to revamp its animal program and create an exemplary program. "Still, it's very sad to me it had to go on at such a level before it got the attention it needed," she said.
Gerberding, who became CDC director in 2002, said she was not aware of the problems until the 2005 inspection.
Thursday morning, in an unusual move, the CDC announced its laboratory problems and corrections on its Web site (www.cdc.gov).
The announcement came after inquiries since last month by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The agency has not made public either the accreditation inspection reports or related correspondence, which the AJC requested under the Freedom of Information Act in October.
The CDC uses animals in experiments and tests to research vaccines and cures for diseases, such as hepatitis, malaria and West Nile virus. The agency has three animal lab facilities in metro Atlanta and two out of state.
Most of its roughly 5,000 animals are mice and other rodents. It also has about 750 monkeys and other primates.
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency posted the information to be open with its employees and members of the scientific community who already were aware of the problems. While accreditation is voluntary, the agency said it is important in ensuring public confidence and recruiting top scientists.
Dr. Tanja Popovic, the CDC's acting chief science officer and the agency's new Institutional Official for Animal Research, called the 2005 inspection report's findings "really distressing." According to the CDC, they included infection control problems, worker safety issues and animal care and welfare problems.
For one chimpanzee, that meant a researcher making 10 attempts to take a needle biopsy of its liver, when more than three is considered excessive by the CDC. Popovic said the CDC has since trained staff to ensure no more than three attempts are made.
An owl monkey and a rhesus monkey died of dehydration when animal care staff were unaware that wall-mounted watering devices weren't working. The CDC now has a policy that they are checked twice a day.
Insufficient staffing contributed to other primate deaths after the animals were given a combination of pain and anesthesia drugs in a recommended dosage that turned out to be too high. The CDC said it has fixed the staffing and dosage problems.
Accreditation officials also cited a lack of veterinary and independent oversight of animals being used in experiments in the CDC's Biosafety Level-4 labs, the agency said. These labs, which work with the most dangerous germs, had been cited by the group in 2002. That has been fixed, the agency said.
Popovic said the CDC immediately revamped its lab animal program, including upgrading labs, improving oversight and hiring additional staff.
Popovic said accreditation officials revisited the CDC last month and she expects the agency will receive a positive report. In an exit interview with CDC officials, the accreditation team "used the word 'commendable' several times," she said.
John Miller, executive director of the accreditation association, said the group's policy is to not discuss the details of an organization's accreditation status. In general, 75 percent of accredited organizations pass their inspections. The group accredits 700 organizations in 29 countries. Each receives a site visit, announced in advance, once every three years, he said.
Miller said the CDC's postings on its Web site were unusual. "I can't recall another instance where there was an organization in a probation status that aired its dirty laundry," he said.
While Miller said he couldn't comment, one letter from his organization posted on the CDC's Web site shows the accreditation group was concerned that some of the problems found in 2005 were similar to those the CDC promised to correct in 2002.
The CDC's "failure to fulfill commitments" made in 2002 "compromised the credibility of the CDC with AAALAC International," according to January letter to the CDC from the accreditation group's president, Dale Martin. Based on the CDC's plans to change its animal care oversight, Martin said in January the group was putting the CDC on probation.
The CDC's animal labs, like those of other federal agencies, are exempt from annual, unannounced inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Martin Stephens, vice president for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, called the problems the CDC disclosed serious. "As much as I'd like to think that CDC posted this article and is having this level of disclosure out of a sense of doing the right thing, I'm tempted to say they're trying to pre-empt public criticism," Stephens said. "It sounds like somebody was asleep at the wheel and allowed conditions to deteriorate significantly."
By ALISON YOUNG
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - 11/16/06