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Oct 30 2009 Student’s Illness Spurs BU Biolab Concerns: BY Med Campus Researcher Sick After Working With Meningitis Bacterium

Researcher Sick After Working With Meningitis Bacterium
POSTED: 6:06 am EDT October 30, 2009

There are new safety questions over Boston University’s planned biolab in the South End after a lab experiment may have led to a mysterious infection.

A graduate student at the BU medical campus developed a bacterial infection a few days after conducting experiments with some dangerous germs at the Evans Biomedical Research Center on Albany Street, the Boston Globe reported.

He worked on Tuesday, Oct. 20, then became ill over the following weekend and on Oct. 27 tests confirmed that he may have contracted a bacterium that may cause meningitis after working with the germs known as Neisseria meningitidis.

Inspectors from the Boston Public Health Commission visited the lab and found nothing suspicious to indicate improper practices at the lab. In 2004, three BU scientists became ill with tularemia infections and the incident was blamed on sloppy procedures.
The most recent incident was reported immediately and university officials hastened to provide other students with antibiotics. The student who became ill was given intravenous antibiotics and is recovering. His or her name has not been released because of patient confidentiality laws.

Although response was swift, the student’s illness is likely to spur opponents of the new $200 million National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories BU has built nearby to work with some of the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Ebola and plague.
Opponents had planned a protest for Friday and have previously filed lawsuits against it the Level 4 lab, prompting a safety review by the National Institutes of Health. The student was working in a Level 2 lab, which does not have safety regulations as strict as Level 4 labs, although all the labs undergo safety inspections every year and workers have to undergo safety training, BU said.