Bio-Lab Accidents (2009)

BIOTERRORBIBLE.COM: Totally inexcusable lab “accidents”  have been occurring at BSL Labs (biosafety level labs) within the United States and around the world. Should a bio-terror pandemic arise, it is possible that a lab “accident” may serve as the scapegoat and source of the deadly pathogen.

Title: 2 Mice Carrying Plague Disappear From New Jersey Lab, FBI Says No Public Health Risk
Date: February 7, 2009
Source: Fox News

Abstract: The frozen remains of two mice injected with the organism that causes plague have not been accounted for seven weeks after being discovered missing at a University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey facility in Newark, the university said Friday.

The FBI investigated and determined there was no risk to public health or any indication of the terrorist link.

It wasn't the first time plague-infected mice have disappeared from the New Jersey facility. Four years ago, in September 2005, three live mice infected with bubonic plague bacteria disappeared from various cages. Officials later said they believed the rodents had died.

UMDNJ's Public Health Research Institute issued a four-paragraph statement about the December incident late Friday saying it believes the red hazardous waste bag containing the dead mice was sterilized and incinerated along with another bag.

"Although the mice in the missing bag were used in vaccine experiments involving the bacteria Yersinia pestis, the organism that causes plague, UMDNJ has no reason to believe that this situation poses a risk to the safety or health of UMDNJ staff or the community at large," the university said in its prepared statement.

University spokesman Jerry Carey said he did not know why UMDNJ waited seven weeks to disclose the missing mice.

Bryan Travers, a spokesman for the FBI office in Newark, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that the FBI determined there was "no nexus to terrorism or risk to public health."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also investigated after the Dec. 19 discovery that mice were missing. A CDC spokesman had no immediate information on the status of its investigation.

Dr. David Perlin, director of the research institute, said the experiment was part of a National Institutes of Health bioterrorism program to test a vaccine for plague. The infectious disease often caused by bites from rodent fleas is of interest to researchers because of its potential for use by bioterrorists.

Perlin said when mice die during an experiment, they are double bagged, labeled then sprayed with a disinfectant before being placed in a freezer for storage, where they are kept for the duration of the research. Afterward, the bagged remains are sterilized then shipped offsite for incineration.

"Any time you are putting something wet in the freezer, there's a chance bags can stick together, and frequently they do," he said of the disinfectant-sprayed bags.

The rodents had been infected with the plague, Perlin said, but he said they posed no threat to research staff or the public in part because they were dead. They were also housed in a secure facility that follows protocols for a biohazard site, he said.

Millions of people died from plague in the Middle Ages, when homes and work places were inhabited by flea-infested rats. Antibiotics are effective against plague, but the disease can be fatal if an infected person is not treated quickly, the CDC Web site says. There is currently no vaccine.

Perlin said the institute has begun taking inventory of all logged hazardous waste bags before sterilization following the incident (Fox News, 2009).

Title: Countywide Bioterrorism Drill Tests Local Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness
Date: February 19, 2009
Source: SMH

Abstract: Local hospitals and public health officials today tested their capacity to respond to an escalating bioterrorist attack involving deliberate and widespread salmonella poisoning in Sarasota County.

In the drill scenario, local hospitals had reported an unusual increase in the number of people with salmonella poisoning during the week. On Friday, the number of mock patients peaked dramatically, prompting Sarasota Memorial Hospital to deploy its “mash-like” medical surge unit in the hospital’s South Parking Garage and triggering a simulated countywide response by Sarasota County public health and emergency management officials.

The culmination of the drill took place when dozens of local students and community members posing as patients arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital with severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. While Sarasota Memorial doctors and nurses were triaging and stabilizing those patients, an industrial explosion at a fictitious plastics factory in the southern part of the county forced emergency management officials to develop a countywide multi-casualty plan to transport those mock patients to other local hospitals for decontamination and treatment. Meanwhile, public health officials were investigating the suspected deliberate contamination of local food with salmonella bacteria.

“It was an amazing show of collaboration and cooperation among Sarasota County’s hospitals, emergency responders and health officials,” said Sarasota Memorial Public Safety Director Mickey Watson. “As with any drill, there were a number of twists and surprises, but everyone worked together to keep the health and safety of our citizens the number #1 priority.”

The drill scenario was based on actual events that took place during the first and single largest bioterrorism attack in the United States – the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack in Oregon – when hundreds of people were sickened from the deliberate spread of salmonella bacteria on salad bars in 10 restaurants in that state.

In the Sarasota scenario, a fictitious local extremist group – MeatHaters – would later be implicated in the deliberate poisoning of food/refreshments served to as many as 4,000 people who attended a public event earlier in the week.

Following the drill, teams were assembled at each participating organization and agency to debrief on what they learned and identify opportunities to improve their response capabilities in the event of an actual event (SMH, 2009).

Title: Virus Mix-Up By Lab Could Have Resulted In Pandemic
Date: March 6, 2009
Source: Times of India

Abstract: It's emerged that virulent H5N1 bird flu was sent out by accident from an Austrian lab last year and given to ferrets in the Czech Republic before anyone realised. As well as the risk of it escaping into the wild, the H5N1 got mixed with a human strain, which might have spawned a hybrid that could unleash a pandemic. Last December, the Austrian branch of US vaccine company Baxter sent a batch of ordinary human H3N2 flu, altered so it couldn't replicate, to Avir Green Hills Biotechnology, also in Austria. In February, a lab in the Czech Republic working for Avir alerted Baxter that, unexpectedly, ferrets inoculated with the sample had died. It turned out the sample contained live H5N1, which Baxter uses to make vaccine. The two seem to have been mixed in error (Times, of India, 2009).

Title: European Lab Accidents Raise Biosecurity Concerns
Date: March 19, 2009
Source: Reuters

Abstract: Lab accidents involving bird flu and Ebola viruses have increased biosecurity fears in Europe, where public health experts say research on dangerous pathogens needs to be more strictly monitored.

A scientist in Germany last week pricked herself with a needle that was believed to be contaminated with a strain of the Ebola haemorrhagic virus with a mortality rate of around 90 percent. She is still under observation in hospital.

That accident added to public health concerns following the recent disclosure that deadly H5N1 bird flu virus samples were mixed with seasonal flu samples at a Baxter International (BAX.N) contracted laboratory in Austria.

Health authorities and industry groups reviewing European lab safety standards concluded in a new report that scientists and managers needed to be better trained in ways to prevent, handle and report such incidents.

While stressing that research on viruses and pathogens is important for vaccine, drug and diagnostic development, the group Biosafety Europe said "it also represents a risk to the population in case those organisms may spread in the environment due to a laboratory accident, poor laboratory practices or intentional removal and subsequent release (terrorist attack)."

"Adequate technical and physical containment measures and best biosafety and biosecurity practices must be implemented in those facilities to prevent accidental or intentional release of dangerous pathogens," it said in the recommendations, published on

Security experts say viruses and other biological agents could be used as weapons, as occurred in 2001 in the United States when envelopes containing anthrax were sent to media outlets and U.S. lawmakers, kiling five people.

Human Error

Baxter spokesman Chris Bona said the Illinois-based company learned in February about the H5N1 contamination, which was due to "a combination of process, technical and human error."

The flu virus samples were meant only for testing and not vaccine or product development, according to the spokesman, who said Baxter has "put corrective measures in place" after the accident but declined to give details "for proprietary reasons."

All 37 people exposed to the mixture at subcontractor sites in Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and at AVIR Greenhills Biotechnology, an Austrian company that bought the samples, tested negative for H5N1 bird flu, Bona said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) fears that virus, which has killed 256 people since 2003, could trigger a deadly flu pandemic if it mutates and starts to spread more easily.

Biosafety Europe's project coordinator Kathrin Summermatter said that better training and more collaboration on safety standards could help reduce pathogen risks in European labs.

"We found that even though there are European guidelines concerning biosafety, the awareness, the implementation and the control was not the same in the different European countries," she told Reuters by email.

The group's report, compiled before the recent bird flu and Ebola accidents, said that Northern European countries disclosed more laboratory-acquired infections than other parts of Europe, "which in part may reflect reporting differences."

Summermatter said greater transparency about incidents that do occur was essential to help identify and reduce risks: "It is important to learn from the experience of other laboratories" (Reuters, 2009).

Title: Swine Flu Container Explodes On Train
Date: April 28, 2009
Source: Spiegal

Abstract: When a container holding swine flu exploded on a Swiss train on Monday, it could have led to a nightmare scenario. Luckily the virus was not the mutated swine flu that has killed around 150 people in Mexico and that has already spread to parts of Europe.

It has all the hallmarks of a disaster movie: A container filled with the swine flu virus explodes on a busy train. But that's exactly the scenario that briefly caused the Swiss authorities some alarm on Monday evening. In the midst of global fears of a swine flu pandemic, a container with swine flu exploded on a train carrying over 60 people.

Luckily, however, it was not the mutated swine flu virus that has killed around 150 people in Mexico. The police quickly reassured the public that there was no danger of any infection.

According to the police, a lab technician with the Swiss National Center for Influenza in Geneva had travelled to Zurich to collect eight ampoules, five of which were filled with the H1N1 swine flu virus. The samples were to be used to develop a test for swine flu infections.

The containers were hermetically sealed and cooled with dry ice. However, it seems the dry ice was not packed correctly and it melted during the journey. The gas coming from the containers then built up too much pressure and the ampoules exploded, as the train was pulling into a station.

After consulting with a virologist, the police stopped the train just before Lausanne station and evacuated it, taking the precaution to isolate all those on board for one hour. A specialist for infectious diseases then reassured all those involved that the particular strain of swine flu on the train posed no risk for humans.

Taking no chances, the police took the contact details of all the passengers before allowing them to continue on their journey (Spiegel 2009).  

Title: Plague Samples Suspected In Scientist Death
Date: September 21, 2009
Source: Science Mag

Abstract: An autopsy last week revealed that a geneticist who died mysteriously might have succumbed to the plague. Malcolm Casadaban, 60, studied a weakened and reportedly benign form of the bacteria that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, in his lab at the University of Chicago. Casadaban died Sunday, 13 September, and an autopsy report 5 days later indicated high levels of Y. pestis in his blood. No other cause of death was apparent, the university said. A team of scientists at the university, with support from local health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is investigating the matter. So far, no one in contact with Casadaban has shown plague symptoms. The investigators are focusing on whether the strain Casadaban worked on was different than other benign strains of the bacterium and whether he had any inborn susceptibility to the microbe. Results are expected in a few weeks (Science Mag, 2009).