Improved safeguards needed at biosafety labs

More needs to be done to improve safety and public accountability at the nation’s high-containment biosafety laboratories that work with deadly viruses and bacteria, according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Recent incidences at government laboratories, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that possibly exposed lab workers to anthrax, Ebola, and bird flu, demonstrate that even the best labs are not safe. “They are very safe but they are not perfectly safe. If it can happen there it certainly can happen anywhere,” Lipsitch, an infectious disease expert, told USA Today Network in a May 28, 2015 video.

The video is part of the network’s investigation into accidents at the nation’s level 3 and 4 biosafety labs, which work with hazardous pathogens as scientists search for infectious disease cures and conduct other research. USA Today reported that the nation has about 200 of these labs, and many have had accidents or “near miss incidents” not reported to the public, ranging from escaped lab mice infected with diseases, to scientists experiencing tears in protective lab suits and needle sticks as they conduct experiments.

“The data [on biosafety 3 and 4 lab incidents] are very limited because the reporting is not mandatory for all labs,” Lipsitch said. “It’s crucial that journalists, safety advocates, and others keep digging and trying to find out what’s going on.”

Watch the video: Biolabs in Your Backyard: A USA Today investigation

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