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Ongoing Inquiry into Melioidosis Illness at Tulane National Research Center

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Media Statement

For Immediate Release: Saturday, February 7, 2015
Contact: Media Relations,
(404) 639-3286

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), continues to work with Tulane University and state and local officials to assess and respond to the bacterial illness of two non-human primates at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in late November.  At this time, there is no known public health threat.  

The investigation was initiated when two primates at the Tulane Center were diagnosed with Melioidosis, a bacterial illness, Burkholderia pseudomallei, of animals and humans more commonly diagnosed in tropical areas of the world. The ongoing federal assistance includes epidemiologic consultation, worker safety review, water and soil sampling, animal testing, and laboratory analysis. 

Further CDC laboratory analysis completed in mid-January determined that the strain that sickened the non-human primates was identical to what was being used in research at the Tulane Center.  Because Burkholderia pseudomallei  is a bacteria that is regulated  for laboratory research in the U.S. and the material was considered not in containment, the CDC and USDA initiated a joint investigation of Tulane National Research Center, a private facility.

As part of the response, between Jan. 20-24, federal scientists visited multiple areas of the Tulane National Primate Research Center. One of these investigators fell ill with non-specific symptoms.  A serology test was conducted and test results on February 7, 2015, indicated possible current or prior exposure to the bacteria.  The individual has a history of travel that could have resulted in exposure to this organism, and is doing well at present. Most infections with this organism do not result in symptoms, and the organism doesn’t generally spread from person to person.  CDC has recommended that the other team members, who visited the Tulane Center, be evaluated for possible exposure to the bacteria.

Because the CDC investigation did not identify a cause of the release that could be immediately remediated, it directed the Tulane Center to stop their research with select agents until the investigation is complete.

Melioidosis, also called Whitmore’s disease, is a disease that can infect humans or animals. The disease is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, and is not believed to spread from person to person.  Most human infections with B. pseudomallei do not cause symptoms.

Melioidosis is predominately a disease of tropical climates, especially in Southeast Asia and northern Australia where it is widespread. The bacteria causing melioidosis are found in contaminated water and soil. It is spread to humans and animals through direct contact with the contaminated source.

For more information about melioidosis, visit http://www.cdc.gov/melioidosis/index.html. 

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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