A study published yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases finds low a incidence of pathogens with bioterrorism potential in the Netherlands, which the authors say would hamper efforts to isolate them from natural sources for intentional release.
A team led by Amsterdam University researchers used data on diseases published from 2009 to 2019 to calculate the average annual incidence of pathogens considered high risk by the European Medicines Agency or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pathogens in labs must be secured
The bacterium Coxiella burnetii (which causes Q fever) had the highest incidence because of a goat-related Q fever epidemic in the Netherlands from 2007 to 2019, peaking at 2,424 cases in 2009. The average incidence over the entire period was 171.2 cases per 10 million people, falling to 10.8 cases per 10 million (14 to 26 cases per year) from 2015 to 2019 after prevention efforts.
The incidence of the bacterium Brucella spp. (brucellosis) was, on average, 2.5 cases per 10 million people per year). Brucellosis was an imported disease only, with one to nine cases per year. Other bacteria with an incidence greater than 1 included Francisella tularensis (tularemia; 1.3 cases per 10 million per year) and Burkholderia pseudomallei (melioidosis; 1.1 cases).
Pathogens with an incidence less than 1 included hemorrhagic fever viruses (Ebola, yellow fever, Lassa fever; 0.3 cases per 10 million per year) and the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (botulism; 0.2 cases) and Bacillus anthracis (anthrax; 0.1 cases). There were no infections with variola major virus (smallpox) or the bacterium Yersinia pestis (plague).
"Most pathogens in the top risk categories only occur sporadically in the Netherlands, restricting access by ill-meaning persons," the authors wrote.
Most pathogens in the top risk categories only occur sporadically in the Netherlands, restricting access by ill-meaning persons.
"However, some of the pathogens are present in clinical microbiology laboratories," they added. "Therefore, those pathogens must have proper systems in place that cover the key areas of biosecurity to minimize the risk for misuse, such as a policy on personnel and information security, material accountability, and physical security, as well as biosecurity awareness."