Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lab Accident Nearly Resulted In Escape Of Deadly Hybrid Bird Flu Virus

Straight out of Stephen King's The Stand. We won't know how close to the world came to the accidental release of a deadly strain of flu virus, because the virus didn't escape the lab. But it sure sounds like it came close.

Just one little accident....

From New Scientist :

Last April, a researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, put tubes into a centrifuge to separate out their contents, which included a human flu virus modified to carry a gene from H5N1 bird flu. The centrifuge became unbalanced and stopped, and when the researcher opened it he found the lid of a safety cup holding one of the tubes had fallen off.

Fearing that the tube inside had leaked, the researcher disinfected everything and called the lab's safety officers. He was wearing a protective hood and respirator, and the whole room was at negative pressure to prevent leaks to the outside. But the researcher had made one mistake: he opened the centrifuge and removed the samples without waiting the recommended 30 minutes to allow any virus-laden aerosol to settle.

In fact, the tube was intact. But if aerosol had escaped, the consequences could have been serious, since the virus would have been able to infect humans, with unknown effects.

Experiments since the accident show that the virus replicates more slowly in the lab than human flu, says Bob Krug, head of the Austin lab. But its behaviour in people might be different, and an escapee could also share its new gene with other flu viruses.

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