A young researcher who succumbed last month (April 28) to meningitis may have been infected at work, reported ScienceInsider. Richard Din, 25 years old, worked at the Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center in San Francisco, California, as a research associate, studying the serotype B strain of the Neisseria meningitidis bacterium. Though vaccines exist for other strains, there is no vaccine for serotype B, and Din’s lab, run by Carl Grunfeld, aims to develop one.
Blood tests showed that Din was infected with the serotype B strain of N. meningitidis, but a definitive diagnosis of a lab-acquired infection waits until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies the specific strain. "It's presumed to be a lab exposure, but it's not 100 percent," Harry Lampiris, chief of infectious disease at the San Francisco VA, told ScienceInsider.
If confirmed, it will not be the first time a lab-acquired infection has killed a researcher. A few years ago, University of Chicago’s Malcolm Casadaban was fatally infected with a weakened strain of Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium that he investigated.
Both bacteria are regulated as biosafety level-2 pathogens, requiring the use of a biosaftey hood, gloves, and face shield or mask and goggles. How Din may have become exposed is not yet known. Lampiris told ScienceInsider that Din’s coworkers considered him a careful lab worker, and no accidents or hood malfunction appear to explain his infection.
"Obviously our whole institution is devastated," Lampiris said.