Nineteen months before a laboratory-acquired infection almost killed a government microbiologist in Beltsville, Maryland in December 2003, workers in a sister government lab near Philadelphia fell ill with the same potentially fatal bacterial illness, The Scientist has learned.

Mechanical engineer Joseph Sites and mechanic Johnny Morphew, workers at the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety Intervention Technologies Research Unit in Wyndmoor, Pa., fell ill in May 2002 after Sites helped perform an experiment where they sprayed E. coli on the inside windows of a biocontainment chamber to see whether chlorine bleach sprayed later would kill it. Morphew was not present during the experiment, but later moved machinery located inside the chamber. What they thought was a harmless version of E. coli was instead contaminated with the potentially deadly O157:H7 strain. Both men missed several days of work, and Morphew reported losing 14 pounds. Both told The Scientist yesterday (June...

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