No, It's Not the Plot of a Lost Michael Crichton Novel Manuscript---Live Bird Flu Virus Sent to Labs in Four Countries

March 6, 2009

Baxter International, whose bird flu vaccine is close to being approved in Europe, has apparently admitted that live bird flu virus strains were accidentally mixed with human flu virus strains in batches of an experimental material that were sent to an Austrian company for distribution to labs in three other countries.  Read here for more.  Fortunately, the contamination was found and materials were destroyed.  Although severall lab ferrets were lost, the 37 humans who had been exposed to the virus were not affected.

"For this particular incident ... the horse did not get out (of the barn)," the Canadian press quotes Dr. Angus Nicoll of the European Center for Disease Control. "But that doesn't mean that we and WHO and the European Commission and the others aren't taking it as seriously as you would any laboratory accident with dangerous pathogens - which you have here." 

Some horse! 

The incident has given conspiracy theorists a lot to write about.  They're putting quote marks around the word contamination for full effect. It was done intentionally, one of them argues, to create a crisis around avian flu. Others mention the possibility of disgruntled employees or terrorists working undercover in the lab.

Errors can be made with any lab process, which is why biohazard regulations are so explicit. But this kind of lab error could have led to a human health disaster.  Could some other manufacturer somewhere make this same kind of mistake in the future?


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