Reviews begin after bird flu scare at lab

Jane Emerick
Geelong’s animal health laboratory has launched a review of its safety procedures after a bird flu scare this week.
Laboratory director Dr Martyn Jeggo said four separate internal and external reviews would examine procedures surrounding the exposure of three staff to bird flu.
A worker had used a safety suit with a missing filter while working on bird flu. Two other staff wore the suit beforehand.
The first worker, a female animal handler, had worn the suit during a procedure in which scientists infected live ducks with a South East Asian strain of bird flu, H5N1.
The employees were rushed to hospital for blood tests and doses of anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu after a laboratory staff discovered the filter was missing.
Blood tests for the virus were negative but a female senior technician and a male animal handler were put under quarantine in their homes to stop potential spreading of the disease.
A female animal handler has been given the all-clear to return to work.
Dr Jeggo said the reviews would check procedures surrounding breathing apparatus used to provide researchers with uncontaminated air while working with dangerous viruses.
Dr Jeggo said human error and employees failing to check each other’s equipment were to blame for the missing filter.
“All circumstances” leading to the incident were up for investigation, he said.
Authorities would review the male animal handler’s quarantine today, seven days after he last entered the contaminated animal room. The female senior technician’s quarantine would be reviewed on Monday.
Dr Jeggo said both would “probably be released”.
They were in “good health and spirits”.
“They take their temperatures daily and report to a doctor from Department of Human Services who phones them each day,” Dr Jeggo said.
“They will all continue to take Tamiflu for seven days.”
Dr Jeggo said the employees’ experiment concluded earlier this week.
The CSIRO Animal Health Laboratory was back to business as usual while investigations continued, he said.