Pandora’s Box? The Risks of Pathogen Escape from Laboratories

Laboratory procedures for working on dangerous pathogens has changed significantly over the past 40 years. Randal J. Schoepp

Laboratory procedures for working on dangerous pathogens has changed significantly over the past 40 years. Randal J. Schoepp, James Gathany

Pathogens are maintained in laboratories around the world for many reasons. They can be used to develop vaccines, to provide materials for diagnostic tests, or to study genomes, offering clues as to how pathogens may evolve so that we are better prepared to deal with them.

There is debate within the scientific community as to exactly what kinds of research should be done on especially nasty organisms commonly called Potential Pandemic Pathogens, such as the deadly SARS respiratory virus or highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses. Some believe the risks of escape, though small, are not worth taking as an accidental release could sicken or even kill millions of people, animals, or both.

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The Mysteries of Emerging Anthrax Outbreaks in Bangladesh

Water-logged soils in the monsoon season make carcass burial problematic in Bangladesh

Water-logged soils in the monsoon season make carcass burial problematic in Bangladesh               Wikimedia

The month of May 2016 has seen over 100 human anthrax cases in Bangladesh, the seventh such outbreak in the past eight years. The Bacillus anthracis bacteria that cause anthrax began wreaking havoc in Bangladesh beginning in 2009, reportedly a quarter century after the last known human case of the disease in the country.

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