H5N1 Lab Workers Stuck
With Infected Needles Quarantined

By Robert Stansfield
Mirror - UK

Two women technicians have been quarantined and vaccinated for suspected bird flu. One is still confined to her house - and yesterday enraged officials by briefly leaving the property and putting the public at risk. The other is back at work but is still being regularly tested for the deadly H5N1 strain of the flu virus.
Both work in the avian biology section of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which analyses samples from diseased creatures. They became suspects within eight days of each other. A source said: "No one can believe that this has happened twice in just over a week. "There've been accidents in the past, but never in this lab."
Yesterday an expert warned that even with no outward sign of the disease, the lab workers could still be lifelong carriers. The women, aged 25 and 50, are feared to have caught H5N1 after slashing their hands with infected blood stained needles.
The 25-year-old pierced herself on Wednesday while injecting chick embryos with H5N1 during tests. She must spend 10 days in isolation at her home in Addlestone, Surrey, while blood and saliva are analysed. She has to take her own DNA swabs to prevent cross-contamination. The samples are collected from her doorstep by couriers. Nurses keep in regular phone contact. Yesterday, the technician breached Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rules by leaving her house.
Our source said: "Bosses will be furious she's put people at risk. She'll be kept in isolation for 10 days. If she doesn't fall ill, she'll be allowed back." The woman was confined as her colleague was allowed back to work after piercing her protective gloves while dissecting an infected duck 11 days ago.
An exclusion zone was placed around the woman's home in the grounds of the VLA compound in Weybridge, Surrey, while tests were carried out. The worker has shown no signs of the virus. But she will continue to be monitored as H5N1 can lie dormant in the body for months.
Our insider said: "She came back when scientists were sure she couldn't spread any infection. They're testing her regularly to check her condition doesn't change." The technician only recently transferred to the avian biology section to help deal with the rising backlog of tests.
Bird flu expert Clifford Warwick said yesterday the virus could flare up months after infection. He said: "H5N1 can go undetected in the body for years. "Stress such as surgery could lower a person's immune system and allow the dormant virus to take hold. The disease would then be strong enough to get into red blood cells and could be passed through the air, in the breath or sneezes."
Defra said the technicians were given Tamiflu vaccine immediately after their accidents, though it is not a certain cure for the virus. A spokesman said: "Both were sent home as a precaution. Neither has shown any ill effects. Both incidents are very low risk."
The Health Protection Agency yesterday played down fears of a bird flu pandemic after it was confirmed H5N1 may have mutated to kill eight members of the same family in Indonesia. Scientists said the virus died with the last victim and the threat was no greater than before.
Patricia Doyle, PhD
Hello Jeff - This story of the two lab workers who stuck themselves with H5N1 infected needles is so odd. Twice in one week. Odd indeed.
Can you imagine if they had been working with Spanish Flu or a recombinent of Spanish Flu and H5N1? As the article states, "there have been accidents in the past." This is why I am so against pandemic work and resurrecting/working with the Spanish Flu virus. It was dead, buried for 80 or 90 years, so why bring it back??
I also found it very disheartening to hear that one of the quarantined workers broke quarantine and left her home putting the public at risk! She should have known better. Now we have two women who may be life-long carriers.
The public puts so much faith in these labs - and I think that lab workers need to respect the public far more. I shudder to think about all of the hastily upgraded BSL 4 labs here in the US...and the riks to public health.
Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
Univ of West Indies
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