Friday, April 9, 2010

Safety Lapses with Infected Biotech Worker at Defense Lab

Apr 6, 2010 6:26 pm US/Eastern
Army Finds Safety Lapses In Lab Infection Case

DAVID DISHNEAU, Associated Press Writer

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) ― Army investigators at Fort Detrick recommended on Tueday that some laboratory safety procedures be reviewed after finding lapses in the case of a biodefense worker who became infected with tularemia, a potentially fatal respiratory disease.The woman survived the infection after a brief hospitalization at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in December.In an executive summary of an internal investigation, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases said the unidentified woman probably inhaled the bacteria between Nov. 13 and Nov. 17.Although there was no significant event investigators could point to, such as a spill or dropped flask, they cited several lapses in proper laboratory techniques that, taken together, may have increased her risk of exposure.The report said potentially contaminated waste wasn't placed in a cabinet designed to contain bacteria. Instead, it was deposited in a waste container inside the sealed laboratory suite.Even though she hadn't been voluntarily immunized with an experimental tularemia vaccine, the woman wasn't wearing a battery-powered device that delivers filtered air into a plastic hood, as required. Instead, she wore a half-face filter respirator. The less-protective device apparently was deemed sufficient because a blood test indicated she had developed antibodies to tularemia, perhaps due to a natural exposure in the past.The worker wasn't clear on the proper procedures for illness reporting, investigators found. She didn't immediately report her symptoms and when she did, on Nov. 23, she failed to immediately notify a second office, the institute's Special Immunizations Clinic, for an evaluation to determine if the illness could be work-related. She finally reported to the clinic on Dec. 1.The report's recommendations include a review of standard laboratory procedures for working with tularemia; a re-evaluation of policies for vaccination and the use of personal protective gear for tularemia; and formulation of an official policy for reporting illnesses and monitoring employee absences.
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