Aug 14, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A graduate student working in a biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) was treated for possible anthrax exposure following a laboratory accident Aug 11—two days after a US House committee announced plans to hold hearings on biodefense lab safety.
According to a statement released to journalists by the UMMC press office in Jackson, Miss., the student inoculated a flask of medium with anthrax cells and then tried to place it in a shaker, at which point it broke.
The student immediately followed the anthrax lab's biosafety plan, which includes actions to protect personnel and ensure that pathogens do not escape the lab, the press release said. Officials at UMMC and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were notified about the incident.
"At no time was there a risk of infection to anyone outside the lab, which is specially designed to contain biohazards," the UMMC statement said, adding that the student was allowed to return home after precautionary treatment.
In other biodefense lab news, the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently announced plans for a hearing in early October to examine the risks associated with the nation's growing number of BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories, which handle dangerous microbial agents.
"It appears that there has been a surge in construction of biosafety labs over the past several years, which have been financed, at least in part, with federal funds," said committee chairman Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., in an Aug 9 press release from the committee. "Yet little information is available about the number of labs being operated in the US and whether they are safely run."
The committee statement pointed to the role of a lab in the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in Britain, as well as a recent accident at Texas A & M University involving Q fever.
A preliminary report from the British government last week said the FMD outbreak, discovered recently near London, was probably caused by a virus that leaked from a Surrey laboratory that is shared by a government-funded institute and a company that makes FMD vaccine.
In late June the CDC suspended work in a Texas A&M biodefense lab while it investigated reports from the Sunshine Project, a watchdog group, that lab workers had been infected with the category B bioterrorism agents Brucella and Coxiella burnetti.
Rep Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in the statement that legislators need to explore whether an increasing number of high-security labs increases the chance of a release of deadly disease. "We want to know the answer or whether anyone in the Administration has even seriously considered the question," he said.
Witnesses at the hearing will include officials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others to be announced later, the committee said.
Aug 7 CIDRAP News story "Report: Lab leak likely caused UK food-and-mouth outbreak"
Jul 3 CIDRAP News story "CDC suspends work at Texas A & M biodefense lab"