What are the potential ways for microbes to escape from a lab, and how do the labs prevent this from happening?

Microbes (e.g., viruses, bacteria, fungi) could potentially escape from a lab in a variety of ways. These include: •Fomites: Inanimate objects capable of carrying microbes in a way that allows them to continue to be infectious – these can include clothing, stethoscopes, doorknobs, writing instruments, table tops, etc. Lab workers wear surgical scrubs and special suits that are decontaminated after use, and nothing leaves a containment lab without it being autoclaved or treated with microbicidal chemicals. •Through the air: Microbes can survive the harsh environment outside a warm, moist body for a little while in the droplets formed when we cough or sneeze, and a few, like anthrax, can form tough outer coatings to form ‘spores’ that can survive outside the host for years. Air filters in labs and ultraviolet lights eliminate microbes before they escape. Containment labs are maintained at negative pressure so that air only flows inward through HEPA filters, thus preventing any lab air from ever escaping into another area. •Insects: Mosquitos are common carriers [‘vectors’] of parasites like malaria, while fleas can pick up plague bacteria from infected rodents and transmit them to humans. Ticks transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease between deer and human. Containment labs are maintained at negative pressure so that air only flows inward through HEPA filters – this also prevents a flying insect like a mosquito or fly from exiting a room. Doors of containment labs also have seals. •Water/food: Foodborne illness can be caused by poor manufacturing processes, poor food preparation practices, drinking from river or lake water contaminated by untreated waste, and even swimming pools and water parks. Containment labs do have sinks where water runs into pipes into huge steel tanks where the liquids mingle with powerful chemicals and are also ‘pressure cooked’ for hours before being allowed to exit the facility. •By infecting a lab worker: Laboratory-acquired infections (LAIs) can occur if a lab worker accidentally infects himself. Because lab workers are so well protected by multiple gloves and respiratory protection and special suits, the vast majority of these LAIs occur from accidental needle stick injuries. Any lab worker who accidentally pokes himself or herself is not immediately infectious: it takes time for any microbe to replicate inside the body and cause disease, so there is time for the worker to leave the lab and begin the appropriate treatment. If the situation warrants, the worker may be quarantined during treatment. Sometimes an infected worker has not been aware of the exposure and returns to the community. Lab workers are trained to immediately report any suspicious illness. •By malevolent intent: A worker intent on removing a pathogen from the laboratory could possibly do so, as the FBI reports occurred in 2001 during the Anthrax letter attacks. In order to address this concern a complex system of personnel reliability, security, and training has been put in place, along with regulations and security cameras, designed to prevent such an occurrence. Each of the containment labs in Frederick County operate under mandated biological safety & security regimes defined by a variety of internationally-accepted standards. These standards have been designed to prevent spread of microbes including the accidental or intentional release from a containment lab. The standards are laid out in detail in a publication called “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories” (see reference). These practices are in agreement with the World Health Organization’s “Laboratory Biosafety Manual” (see reference). Federally-appointed responsibility for enforcing and monitoring lab compliance with these regulations is given to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). For labs using the most dangerous microbes, additional security measures are mandated by the Federal and State governments. Laboratory practices are scrutinized and any person with access to the microbes is required to be actively cleared in a Personnel Reliability Program, and register with the State of Maryland. These measures are taken to ensure that the individuals with access are trustworthy. All of Fort Detrick’s National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC) labs have "biosurety" programs in place that focus on four main areas: 1)safety – biosafety involves enforcing proper procedures for handling dangerous pathogens; 2)security – biosecurity includes physical systems like locks and alarms, guards, and procedures to prevent theft or unauthorized activities; 3)inventory and access – microbes are inventoried and access is controlled; and 4) Personnel reliability – starting in the middle of the last decade, people with access to dangerous microbes must undergo extensive background checks and psychological evaluations, as well as frequent monitoring, to ensure they meet very high standards for reliability and trustworthiness. The Federal Government mandates this for the most dangerous organisms (all BSL-4 microbes and many BSL-3 microbes) as part of a Personnel Reliability Program. The privately-owned laboratories are subject to the same Federal laws regulating access and handling to the most dangerous organisms. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have jurisdiction and conduct inspections and, if necessary, can institute a cessation of operations if the situation warrants such action. In addition, the State of Maryland maintains a Registry of all individuals who are authorized to work with the most dangerous microbes. This list of individuals is not available to the public in order to protect the individuals. Sources: Annotated Code of Maryland, Title 10 Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Subtitle 10 Laboratories, Chapter 11, Biological Agents Registry Program.  http://dhmh.maryland.gov/labs/html/emergency_prep.html 



Safety and informational presentations by Army to CLCAC:    http://www.cityoffrederick.com/DocumentView.aspx?DID=1090  http://www.cityoffrederick.com/DocumentView.aspx?DID=1088 






Show All Answers

1. What is a containment lab?
2. What do the Bio-safety level designations mean?
3. What Containment labs operate in Frederick County?
4. What is the National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC)?
5. What disease-causing organisms do the labs in Frederick County work on?
6. What is a select agent and how are they controlled?
7. Do the labs in Frederick County conduct research on ‘weaponized’ pathogens and/or conduct classified research?
8. Why would any laboratory choose to work with select agents?
9. Who operates the labs?
10. Where are the BSL-3 and BSL-4 containment labs located in Frederick County?
11. Why are these labs in Frederick County and not somewhere else?
12. What are the potential ways for microbes to escape from a lab, and how do the labs prevent this from happening?
13. What agencies oversee operations to ensure safety?
14. How often are the labs inspected?
15. How did the presentations at the CLCAC Meeting by Emergency and Health Services personnel relate to the charted mission of the CLCAC regarding public health and safety of the Frederick community?
16. What is the time-line for Fort Detrick Officials to notify Frederick County first-responders when there is an abnormal event or incident on the Fort Detrick campus?
17. What is the County action plan for public notification and potential evacuation when Fort Detrick reports the release of an infectious material/toxin/contaminated animal or specimen into the Community
18. What are the notification procedures in the event of a release of an infectious material(s) or toxin or contaminated animal or specimen (“materials") at a Fort Detrick facility?
19. Is there a permanent real-time meteorological monitoring station on the Fort Detrick campus which supports an abnormal event or incident on the Fort Detrick campus?
20. What is the difference between biological material and nuclear material?
21. How did the presentations at the CLCAC Meeting by Emergency Management and Health Services personnel relate to the charted mission of the CLCAC regarding County Public Health and Safety?