Student Infected With Virus in

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Student Infected With Virus in Undisclosed Biolab Accident

The graduate student was alone in the lab on a Saturday, handling
a mouse infected with a debilitating virus, when the needle slipped.
She wore two gowns, two pairs of shoe covers, a hair net, a face
mask, and two pairs of gloves. Gingerly, she had pointed the needle
at the mouse's abdomen and injected the antibody. The animal was
infected with a recombinant strain of Chikungunya virus,
a mosquito-borne pathogen that has sparked epidemics in Africa
and the Caribbean. Chikungunya can wreak havoc in other regions
when the right kind of mosquito is present; in 2007 and 2017 there
were outbreaks in Italy, and in 2014 the virus hit Florida, infecting
11 people who had not recently traveled abroad. In January 2016,
nine months before the researcher stood in the lab that weekend,
a locally acquired infection was diagnosed in Texas.
Chikungunya, which means "bent over in pain" in the Makonde
language, can lead to chronic arthritis, and its spread through the
Americas had made studying it more urgent. The researcher's team
at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri,
was studying the virus in the hope of discovering possible treatments
or developing a vaccine. The graduate student was working in
a biosafety level 3 lab, a level that often includes a completely
sealed perimeter, directional airflow, and full personal protective
equipment. But accidents still happened. The team's experiments
were set back when, after withdrawing the needle from the mouse's
belly, the graduate student grazed a finger on her left hand.
The needle pierced through both sets of gloves, but the student saw
no blood, so she washed her hands, removed her safety equipment,
and left the lab without telling anyone what had happened. Four days
later, she ran a fever, and her body ached and convulsed in chills.
The next morning, her skin was flecked with discolored spots. They
multiplied over the course of the day, so she went to the emergency
room, where the doctors kept her overnight for observation. A nurse
drew her blood and sent it off to a state lab. She tested positive for
Chikungunya. Only after getting sick did the student tell her
supervisor about the slipped needle.
After the student told her supervisor about the accident in September
2016, Washington University reported it to the National Institutes
of Health, but until now, the event has remained out of public view.
So have hundreds of other incidents in U.S. labs, including four
other needle injuries at Washington University.
An Intercept investigation based on over 5,500 pages of NIH documents
obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has uncovered a litany
of mishaps: malfunctioning equipment, spilled beakers, transgenic
rodents running down the hall, a sedated macaque coming back to life
and biting a researcher hard enough to lacerate their hand. Many
of the incidents involved less dangerous pathogens that can be
handled with basic safety equipment, and most did not lead to
infection. But several accidents happened while scientists were
handling deadly or debilitating viruses in highly secure labs, and
a few, like the Chikungunya virus slip-up, did lead to illness.
(Full story: https://bit.ly/3sWR56r)