CDC: Tulane center to stop research on some dangerous agents

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COVINGTON, La. (AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have told the Tulane National Primate Research Center to stop research on some dangerous "agents" while it investigates the center's procedures.

The order came after a federal investigator tested positive for the germ that causes a disease called meliodosis weeks after looking into how two of Tulane's monkeys became infected with the bacterium called Burkholderia pseudomallei.

The investigator, tested after she became ill with common symptoms, is doing well and could have been exposed during earlier travel overseas, the CDC said.

Meliodosis is not believed to spread from person to person and most human infections don't cause symptoms, said a statement on the CDC's website.

Andrew Lackner, director of the primate center, said he doesn't know how the bacterium might have escaped the laboratory's controls. It's the first time such a thing has happened, he said.

"We work with infectious agents all the time," he said. "That's what we do."

Nobody at the center is ill, said a statement from state and St. Tammany Parish officials. Preliminary tests of the two animals' cages indicate that none of their cagemates was exposed, according to a statement from the primate center emailed by a Tulane spokesman.

"Further, a sample from one of the animals taken two days before admission to the hospital was negative. This raises the distinct possibility that the animals were infected with Burkholderia after hospital admission," the statement said.

The primate center said it reported the infections to the CDC.

The CDC says investigators have not found an easily fixed cause for the bacteria's release. It says it has therefore told Tulane that, until the investigation's complete, its center should stop research on organisms and toxins that could pose a severe threat to public health and safety.

Lackner said one of the monkeys was euthanized and the other was treated and recovered.

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