Lab accidents happen. Usually they happen because the technician, student or senior scientist thinks he or she is working with something safe. But they happen even if everyone knows there is dangerous stuff around. Like in a bioweapons laboratory. And when that happens, you don’t want to publicize it. Even if you are required to:
An aerosol chamber mishap at Texas A&M University in February 2006 caused a researcher to be infected with the bioweapons agent brucella. Texas A&M University then violated federal law by not reporting the brucellosis case to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and now faces severe penalties. This information has only come to light as a result of persistent Texas Public Information Act requests by the Sunshine Project.
The infection incident occurred on 9 February 2006. Several A&M researchers, including Principal Investigator Thomas Ficht, were in a BSL-3 lab training in the use of the Madison Aerosol Chamber. Supervising was David McMurray, an A&M professor and self-described inventor of the chamber, who has characterized it as “foolproof”.
Following a “hot” run that blew aerosolized brucella into the chamber to expose mice, researchers began clean up procedures. Using what Texas A&M now admits were inappropriate protocols, a researcher “cleaned the unit by climbing partially into the chamber to disinfect it.” A&M officials later concluded that the brucella bacteria likely entered her body via her eyes as a result of this improper procedure. (This is the third instance of lab-acquired infections related to the Madison chamber that the Sunshine Project has uncovered. The others were in Seattle and New York City.)
By April 2006, the researcher had “been home sick for several weeks.” Nobody apparently suspected brucellosis, despite the occupational exposure and, presumably, familiarity with its symptoms. Eventually, the researcher’s personal physician ordered blood tests and made the diagnosis on about April 10. On 15 April, the infected researcher began a heavy treatment course reflecting the severity of the situation. She received a week of intravenous antibiotics followed by a 45-day course of two additional antibiotic drugs. Just over a month later, new blood tests indicated that the infection had passed. (The Sunshine Project)
So this is the story. The “foolproof” aerosol chamber was “inappropriately” cleaned and someone got sick from a bioweapons agent. Without the persistence of The Sunshine Project no one outside the lab would know about it.
The good news is two-fold: the person recovered, and the disease, brucellosis, is rarely contagious.
I’ll let you figure out the bad news.