SARS labs unsafe, says WHO

Scientific advisors call for international regime to regulate pathogen biocontainment

Robert Walgate(
Jun 2, 2004

The World Health Organization (WHO) should take a stronger role in regulating the biocontainment of pathogens worldwide to help prevent outbreaks of lab origin like the recent severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) cases in Asia, according to microbiologist John MacKenzie, who advised WHO on SARS after last year's international outbreak.

In a recent update on the lab error that led to escapes of the virus from the Institute of Virology in Beijing, WHO said the SARS virus is being held in some laboratories around the world at an "inappropriate containment level."

"What SARS has shown us is that we do have problems, and that we don't have international standards," MacKenzie told The Scientist. "European countries, the US, and Australia have standards, but they don't in Asia nor in many other parts of the world."

In Singapore, for example, where a postdoctoral student caught SARS in a lab accident, the...