There is a major scandal brewing in the UK, where the dreaded foot and mouth virus seems to have originated at a local laboratory that makes vaccines.

Probably the most shocking headline in the matter is this one:

A scratch of the nose and the virus is outA scientist simply scratching his nose while working with the foot and mouth virus could have been the trigger for the present disease outbreak, a biosecurity expert said yesterday.

Umm…fellahs, if you are working with a dangerous virus, you aren’t supposed to scratch your nose. In fact, your nose should be covered…But THIS REPORT suggests there was no major airborne release of the virus, and suggests poor decontamination of people leaving the site, or that water used to decontaminate was released without itself being decontaminated;

It is feared that gloves or clothes used by workers in the facility may not have been decontaminated properly.

There are two labs in the area, but the UKTelegraph reports problems at one lab were already known:

Facilities at the IAH have been described as “ramshackle” and funding cuts meant it was suffering a staff and skills shortage.

In a report published in November, the Commons science and technology committee said the IAH had received “a significant cut in real terms” in its funding for work on exotic viruses, including foot and mouth.

Well, foot and mouth virus will just bankrupt local farmers and put a dent in the agricultural economy of England…but what if the outbreak had been something that affects humans?

The latest news is that there has also been a breach in security that resulted in one of their workers developing Legionaire’s disease.

Legionaire’s disease is usually spread when water with the bacteria like organism is used in air conditioning units, and becomes particalized in the air of closed rooms. It usually only infects those with previous lung disease, and is not transmitted person to person.

The reports don’t say if the labs are working with that organism, (probably not) but if the victim caught Legionaire’s disease in the laboratory, it would mean someone was not cleaning the air pumps/air conditioning equipment properly…again a sign of carelessness.

Working with dangerous microbes and viruses is…dangerous. If, like the press reports suggest, there has been carelessness in very basic safety and health matters, it will mean a major shakeup in the UK scientific community.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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