Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 2 News List

CDC worker broke protocol in handling infectious material

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official broke the agency's own protocol for the handling of infectious materials, director Steve Kuo (郭旭崧) said yesterday.

Six strains of the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei were were released to Su Hsun-pi (蘇勳璧), the deputy director of the center's third branch office.

Su failed to report the requests. The bacteria can cause a deadly infection and is considered a potential biological weapon.

Su, the sister of Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), refused to answer questions when contacted by the Taipei Times, referring all inquiries to the CDC.

"This was a shameful event," said Kuo at a press conference held by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) to lambaste the agency for the breach.

Tsai obtained documents issued by Su requesting the bacteria from Kaohsiung and Tainan area hospitals using the authority of the third-branch office. However, she never reported the requests to the CDC itself.

"What Su has done is abused the power of her office for her own personal ends," Tsai said. "The danger posed to the public should the bacteria fall into the wrong hands is enormous."

According to the CDC, Su maintained that she received the bacteria on Dec. 5 last year, but destroyed it five days later as it arrived too late to aide her research.

`Personal guarantee'

"She gave me her personal guarantee that all the bacteria have been destroyed," Kuo said. "There is no danger to the public."

However, Tsai was not mollified.

"I find the CDC reaction totally inadequate," Tsai said. "Not only can they not independently verify the destruction of the bacteria, Su is still at work and taking home her salary."

According to the center, Su's error was discovered during a routine inspection of hospitals by CDC safety division staff a month ago.

"We had no intention of keeping the story hidden," said Guo, who said that he reported the matter in a Department of Health meeting three weeks ago.

Deputy Director of the CDC Lin Ting (林頂) confirmed that Su would remain in her position until an administrative panel come to a decision.

"For now, we will stop any research in process, but I cannot say what the decision of the panel will be," he said.

Lin said that he could not offer comment on what Su's motives might have been for circumventing the rules.

"I have not spoken to those involved regarding the matter," added Lin, who also serves as CDC spokesman.

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