Either there are more lab accidents in biodefense laboratories or we are hearing about them more (see here, here, here, here, here.). Since there are always lab accident but there is a lot more “biodfense” laboratory work, it is probably both. I think we can look forward to the Bush administration solving this problem by declaring lab accidents in biodefense labs a state secret. That way we won’t have to worry about hearing about them any more. But until that happens, we can look forward to more of stuff like this:
A graduate student at Jackson’s University Medical Center had to be treated for anthrax exposure over the weekend [11-12 Aug 2007].
The student was putting a flask of anthrax cells into a shaker when the shaker broke, hospital officials said. According to University Medical Center, the student followed all biosafety rules, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was notified.
After a wrote the above, I took a look at the comment of the ProMed Moderator, who in this case was Dr. Martin Hugh-Jones (MHJ) of Lousiana State University. Hugh-Jones is one of the world’s authorities on anthrax, going back many years. There are few as experienced with this organism as he is. Here is his Commentary on the above, in its entirety:
Back in the good old days when there were merely some 100 or so individuals worldwide doing research on _Bacillus anthracis_ we would hear of such occasional misadventures, usually as a result of tubes collapsing during ultracentrifugation with spores going everywhere. In my own laboratory, because we had been sent so many archival contaminated and misidentified cultures, there was a strict prohibition on even thinking of any manipulations involving the Sterne strain — one national and respected national collection shared with us was 20 percent Sterne. Spores fly and especially Sterne.
So I refuse to shake a finger at my colleagues in Mississippi except to note that they had promptly reported their accident. On the other hand in the flood of research money and with over 300 US institutes certified to handle _B. anthracis_ — to what productive purpose is not always obvious — it is of real concern because, whatever the research objectives, they all seem to insist on having and handling “Ames”, which is one of the more virulent strains, and accidents will happen and laboratory contamination will occur, and possibly accumulate, vide USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases). There is also the risk of a culture quietly walking when so many laboratories have them. – Mod.MHJ (ProMed)
You don’t have to believe me. This is just a blog. But I would listen to Hugh-Jones.