Lapse in use of protective gear may have led to spread of bacteria

Credit: WWL-TV

COVINGTON, La. – A lapse in use of protective equipment is considered a likely candidate for the spread of bacteria from a test lab into animals at the Tulane National Primate Research Center, according to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control.

A joint investigation from the USDA and Plant Health Inspection Service centered on how the Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria may have been inadvertently spread from the secure, select agent lab to the animals.

The CDC said that inspectors identified lapses in the appropriate use of personal protective equipment; specifically, the correct use of outer wear to prevent contamination of clothing beneath them, which could have led to the bacteria clinging to inner garments and getting carried out of the select agent lab where research was being conducted with the bacteria on mice.

The bacteria could have been transferred this way to the breeding colony where the non-human primates resided and/or to the clinic where routine examinations and treatments were administered.

Additionally, CDC and APHIS inspectors determined that Tulane primate center staff frequently entered the select agent lab without appropriate protective clothing, which would increase the risk of bringing the bacteria out of the lab or becoming infected themselves.

The CDC said that since Feb. 11, 2015, all select agent research at the Tulane primate facility has been suspended and will remain so until Tulane officials demonstrate satisfactorily to CDC and APHIS inspectors that:

·Entity-wide procedures exist to ensure animals accidentally exposed in the future are managed appropriately;

·All personal protective equipment procedures are thoroughly reviewed and revised appropriately to lessen the risk of future breaches;

·All Tulane primate center personnel are trained on any new or revised protective clothing procedures; and

·Improved entry and exit procedures to the outside enclosures housing non-human primates are in place to stop any further transmission among the animals.

Tulane University addressed the findings in a statement of its own Friday.

“We have implemented many of the recommended corrective actions and will continue to do so to ensure that all policies and practices at TNPRC meet federal guidelines and requirements,” said Michael Strecker, the Executive Director of Public Relations for Tulane University. “We have engaged a national expert in select agent research to assist us. We apologize for any anxiety, discomfort or inconvenience this incident has caused.”

The investigation was initiated when two primates at the Tulane center were diagnosed with Melioidosis (Whitmore’s Disease), a bacterial illness of animals and humans more commonly diagnosed in tropical areas of the world and not found in North America. CDC laboratory analysis completed in mid-January determined that the strain of bacteria that sickened the non-human primates was identical to the one being used in research at the Tulane center. The lab results led CDC and APHIS officials to determine the bacteria, a Tier 1 select agent regulated for research, was not contained.

CDC has found no evidence to date to suggest the organism was released into the surrounding environment and therefore it’s unlikely there is any threat to the general population.

Burkholderia pseudomallei is not transmitted between humans or animals, and the risk of acquiring Melioidosis is low. At this time, none of those workers at greatest risk of exposure or those whose blood samples indicated weakly reactive antibody levels have gotten sick.

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