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Human Infections from Animal Testing Labs

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 8 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Human Infections From Animal Testing Labs

In animal testing labs, proper preventative safety procedures are vital to safeguarding animal health and ensuring that ethical standards are met. Yet, human safety is similarly important. If proper safety protocol isn't followed, humans risk contracting the actual diseases they are studying and trying to eradicate through animal testing experiments. In a recent example of laboratory practices gone wrong, a technician contracted a disease after improperly attempting to clean an aerosol chamber.

Improper Laboratory Cleaning and Ethics

In a laboratory in the United States, a researcher contracted a bacterial infection known as brucellosis. On top of that, the university didn't follow proper procedures because they failed to report the occurrence to the government. It was only after a public group made the university accountable for their actions that the university chose to report the incident. The researcher had been leaning into an aerosol chamber that was previously used to infect laboratory animals with what is considered a potential bioweapons agent.

The brucellosis disease is caused by bacteria from the Brucella genus. Typically, brucellosis disease afflicts farm animals such as sheep and pigs. When it does infect a human, the individual usually suffers from symptoms such as those experienced by a person who has the flu. While the disease can be fatal, this is rare and most people who contract the disease will recover. The researcher actually received the brucellosis diagnosis in April while the incident was identified in the previous February of the same year. The technician had climbed into the chamber that was used to infect the mice because he was attempting to clean the area. Although the technician only partially climbed into the apparatus, the actions were enough to cause the infection.

Sharing Information and Learning From Mistakes

A main criticism of the university is the manner in which it handled the incident. While the incident should not have happened in the first place, there would be less criticism if it had at least followed proper protocol for handling what occurred. Instead, it was essentially 'hidden' and pushed aside, rather than reported. By reporting the incident, the university and other researchers elsewhere in the world could have learned from the mistake, thus preventing the same incident from occurring again at the university or in another research facility.

Given that Brucella bacteria could potentially be used as bioweapons and they are listed in a special category by the government of the United States, this meant that the university should have contacted the Centre for Disease Control to inform them of the lab technician's exposure to the bacteria. Unfortunately, the university only filed the report in April and also only a day after a public group requested information regarding the incident.

Preventing Human Infections from Animal Testing Labs

The incident is an important reminder of how things can go awry during animal testing experiments and laboratory cleaning practices. Also important is that it shows how procedures for handling things when they go wrong is just as important to ensure health and safety of humans who work in the labs. Hopefully, the vast majority of animal testing labs are honest and open as well as focused on following proper protocol and ethical guidelines when testing animals.

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