Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Mind Reels

As if we didn't have enough problems with H5N1 avian flu and the Marburg virus, it seems that the College of American Pathologists included the A/H2N2 virus - which caused the deadly 1957 Asian flu pandemic - in a testing kit for distribution to laboratories around the world.

Samples of this sort are used as unknowns, to test labs on their ability to identify pathogens. In this case, vials of the virus were sent to 5000 labs in 18 countries. The problem was noticed after the virus escaped from a kit at a high-containment Canadian lab.

Test kits for flu are not handled at a high level of biological containment as it is generally assumed they do not carry unusually dangerous viruses. But its escape in the Winnipeg lab is worrying, as the lab contains facilities with the highest level of containment and its staff is expected to maintain high levels of lab hygiene. Its most probable route of escape into the outside world would be if a lab worker catches the Asian flu, then passes it on.
Unfortunately, this is a strain to which no one born after 1968 has any immunity.

Effect Measure, as usual, explains the situation in terms that the layperson can understand; Revere calls this a major fuck-up.

For some reason, this seems like a good time to mention the global campaign to "prohibit the genetic engineering of smallpox, the insertion of smallpox genes in other poxviruses, and any further distribution of smallpox genetic material for non-diagnostic purposes."

UPDATE: I almost forgot about the recent spate of tularemia infections, which I discussed here.

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