A potentially deadly bacteria has been accidentally released from a high-security research laboratory leading to serious safety fears.
The Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria was found in animals at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana, which is just 35 miles north of New Orleans.
The bacteria, primarily found in south-east Asia, can spread to animals and humans through direct contact with contaminated soil and water.
But despite thorough investigations by multiple authorities the cause of the release and extent of the contamination are still unknown.
It is the latest in a series of significant accidents that have taken place across the country.
Richard Ebright, a biosafety expert from Rutgers University in New Jersey, said the release was worrying.
A POTENTIALLY FATAL DISEASE
Burkholderia pseudomallei can cause a potentially serious disease in people and animals called melioidosis.
Melioidosis commonly involves the lungs and has a wide range of symptoms including fever, headache, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain.
It is often mistaken as pneumonia or tuberculosis.
Several countries have studied using the bacteria as a bioweapon because strains can be resistant to multiple antibiotics.
If the disease is left untreated it is fatal.
The overall mortality rate is 40 per cent but in Thailand, where the bacteria is endemic, it is up to 50 per cent.
Confirmed infections are relatively rare.
‘The fact that they can’t identify how this release occurred is very concerning,’ he told USA Today.
‘Human error is always the first explanation you should consider for a laboratory accident. The easiest way to transfer something from one place where it’s supposed to be, to another where it isn’t supposed to be is by a worker moving from one place to the other.’
Research was being completed at the center using rodents to try and find a vaccine against the bacteria.
But at least four rhesus macaques – monkeys that were kept in a separate part of the 500-acre facility – have been accidentally exposed to it.
The first was discovered nearly three months ago in November and two have since died.
All four were in the center’s veterinary hospital at the same time, leading to speculation that it could have been where the animals were exposed.
But one US Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigator was also hospitalised after blood tests showed she had antibodies indicating a current or prior exposure to the bacteria. She is now recovering.
Authorities are concerned that too few samples have been taken to decide whether livestock and domestic animals are at risk.
Only 39 soil samples were taken from the grounds – far less than the 100 recommended by previous research completed in Thailand.
Andrew Lackner, director of the center, said: ‘We’re taking this extraordinarily seriously. It’s very disturbing to us.
‘There has never been a public health threat.’
Source: Daily Mail