Same School, New Infection?

For the second time in two years, a University of Chicago researcher falls ill to a laboratory-acquired infection.

By | September 14, 2011

Violet gram-stained strings of B. cereus contrast with clusters of pink E. coli.WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, BIBLIOMANIAC15

Two years after a University of Chicago researcher died of a laboratory-acquired plague infection, another scientist conducting research in the same area was treated for a bacterial infection possibly acquired through laboratory contact, ScienceInsider reports. A microbiologist who works under Olaf Schneewind, contracted Bacillus cereus, most likely via skin contact, possibly after encountering inoculant spilled by another researcher. The scientist was treated and released from the hospital late last month.

Malcolm Casadaban, a co-investigator with Schneewind, was fatally infected 2 years ago with a weakened strain of Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium that he investigated. Researchers had previously passaged Y. pestis and selected a strain with impaired iron uptake, and it is thought that an undiagnosed condition leading to iron overload in Casadaban’s body enhanced the strain’s virulence.

The lab area where B. cereus is studied, a biosafety-level 2 facility, was closed for decontamination and the moving of several pathogens to a BSL3 site. The university is planning to evaluate and possibly rework its safety procedures. “The fact that there have been two serious incidents [involving] individuals, we take that very seriously,” Conrad Gillian, the university’s dean of research and graduate education in the biological sciences division told ScienceInsider. “It doesn’t matter if it was a statistical fluke or not.”

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