Hundreds of U.S. bioterror lab mishaps cloaked in secrecy

Allison Young of USA Today reports that more than 1,100 laboratory incidents involving bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose significant or bioterror risks to people and agriculture were reported to federal regulators during 2008 through 2012, government reports obtained by USA TODAY show.

oops.britneyMore than half these incidents were serious enough that lab workers received medical evaluations or treatment, according to the reports. In five incidents, investigations confirmed that laboratory workers had been infected or sickened; all recovered.

In two other incidents, animals were inadvertently infected with contagious diseases that would have posed significant threats to livestock industries if they had spread. One case involved the infection of two animals with hog cholera, a dangerous virus eradicated from the USA in 1978. In another incident, a cow in a disease-free herd next to a research facility studying the bacteria that cause brucellosis, became infected due to practices that violated federal regulations, resulting in regulators suspending the research and ordering a $425,000 fine, records show.

But the names of the labs that had mishaps or made mistakes, as well as most information about all of the incidents, must be kept secret because of federal bioterrorism laws, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the labs and co-authored the annual lab incident reports with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“More than 200 incidents of loss or release of bioweapons agents from U.S. laboratories are reported each year. This works out to more than four per week,” said Richard Ebright, a biosafety expert at Rutgers university in New Jersey, who testified before Congress last month at a hearing about CDC’s lab mistakes.

The only thing unusual about the CDC’s recent anthrax and bird flu lab incidents, Ebright said, is that the public found out about them. “The 2014 CDC anthrax event became known to the public only because the number of persons requiring medical evaluation was too high to conceal,” he said.

CDC officials were unavailable for interviews and officials with the select agent program declined to provide additional information. The USDA said in a statement Friday that “all of the information is protected under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.”

Such secrecy is a barrier to improving lab safety, said Gigi Kwik Gronvall of the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore, an independent think tank that studies policy issues relating to biosecurity issues, epidemics and disasters.

doublesecretprobation“We need to move to something more like what they do in aviation, where you have no-fault reporting but the events are described so you get a better sense of what actually happened and how the system can be fixed,” said Gronvall, an immunologist by training and an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Gronvall notes that even with redundant systems in high-security labs, there have been lab incidents resulting in the spread of disease to people and animals outside the labs.

“People understand that mistakes will happen,” Gronvall said. “But you want it to be captured, you want it to be learned from, you want there to be a record of how it was dealt with. That’s something I think should happen with biosafety.”

Nuevo Folleto Informativo: Oops, sucedió otra vez: Descuidos al cambiar pañales puede causar enfermedades

Benjamin Chapman

Traducido por Gonzalo Erdozain

Resumen del folleto informativo mas reciente:

– No es tan solo caca 
de un bebé tierno; Norovirus, Shigella y Salmonella pueden ser transmitidas a la comida a través de la caca (incluyendo la caca de bebé) y causar enfermedades.

– En el 2007, un brote de enfermedad alimenticia, el cual causo 4 hospitalizaciones, fue vinculado con el cambio de pañales a un niño con diarrea en un Chuck E. Cheese de Maryland.

– Recuerde al mozo de limpiar y desinfectar las mesas luego de ser usadas; no cambie bebés en la cocina(especialmente aquellos con diarrea).

Los folletos informativos son creados semanalmente y puestos en restaurantes, tiendas y granjas, y son usados para entrenar y educar a través del mundo. Si usted quiere proponer un tema o mandar fotos para los folletos, contacte a Ben Chapman a
Puede seguir las historias de los folletos informativos y barfblog en twitter
@benjaminchapman y @barfblog.


Cheetos or norovirus? Raw oyster risk

Proving again that risk comparisons are risky and that maybe raw oysters are as dangerous as Cheetos, Eurosurveillance today reports on the fourth norovirus-related outbreak linked to raw oysters in recent memory – and there’s a bunch of them.

Since January 2010, 334 cases in 65 clusters were reported from five European countries: the United Kingdom, Norway, France, Sweden and Denmark. The article describes the available epidemiological and microbiological evidence of these outbreaks.

?Oysters are grown in coastal waters of several countries and are considered a delicacy in most parts of the world. Like all bivalve molluscs, they feed by filtering large amounts of water through their gills. In situ studies with bioaccumulation of a virus indicator in oysters have shown that oysters can concentrate viruses up to 99 times compared to the surrounding water [1]. In water contaminated with norovirus, this leads to the accumulation of the virus within the flesh and gut of the oyster.

Norovirus has been detected in 5 to 55% of oysters from Europe and the United States (US) by random sampling at market places and oyster farms [2-4]. The detection of norovirus in oysters follows the same seasonal trend as the norovirus epidemiology in the general population, i.e. norovirus in oysters is generally detected between October and February [1, 12].

Seventy-eight percent of shellfish-related illness from noroviruses in the US between 1991 and 1998 were associated with the consumption of oysters harvested between the months of November and January [1]. Contamination of oyster beds with noroviruses can occur after heavy rains cause flooding, which results in combined sewer overflow or hydraulic overload in sewage treatment plants [5, 13]. There are also examples of oyster harvesters disposing sewage into oyster-bed waters causing multi-state outbreaks of norovirus in the US [6]. Noroviruses are difficult to remove from oysters through cleansing and also stay infectious [7]. Oysters are often eaten raw, creating the potential for foodborne enteric virus infections.

From January to March 2010, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) was informed through its Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses (FWD) surveillance network about norovirus outbreaks linked to consumption of oysters in five EU/EEA countries: the United Kingdom (UK), Norway, France, Sweden and Denmark. In total 65 small clusters involving 334 cases were reported. Most cases had eaten oysters in restaurants. …

??In conclusion, an increased number of norovirus outbreaks related to the consumption of oysters have been observed at EU level in the last three months. … consuming raw oysters involves potential exposure to norovirus and is particularly hazardous for immunocompromised or chronically ill persons. Therefore, countries might consider informing the public about the risks linked with consuming raw oysters.

Or Cheetos.

As James Wesson, oyster scientist with the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, told the Daily Press the other day,

"More people die each year from eating Cheetos than from eating oysters.”

No data was provided.