CA lab revisits safety steps after researcher dies

Associated Press Modified: May 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: May 3, 2012
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Lab workers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs medical center will be urged to get vaccinations for the diseases they study as a precaution as investigators continue looking into a researcher's death after he handled a rare strain of bacteria, officials said Thursday.

Richard Din, the meningitis research associate who died Saturday in a possible lab exposure, wasn't vaccinated for the illness despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to the contrary. Nonetheless, the VA's Harry Lampiris said a vaccine may not have protected Din, 25, because he was helping to develop a vaccine for a meningitis strain resistant to vaccine.

Lampiris also said about 70 people who came into contact with Din recently — including family members, co-workers and medical personnel who treated him — received antibiotic treatments that are "100 percent effective" in combatting infection.

Din, who lived on San Francisco's Treasure Island, fell ill with a headache and other flu-like symptoms about two hours after leaving work Friday evening, Lampiris said.

He awoke Saturday feeling worse and with a rash all over his body, and he was rushed to the VA hospital by friends.

Lampiris said Din lost consciousness in the car and died in the hospital of a heart attack at about 2 p.m. The vaccine-resistant strain of bacteria was found in his bloodstream.

Lampiris said it is unclear how Din was exposed to the bacteria because he had a reputation as a safe, by-the-book research associate at the VA hospital's Northern California Institute for Research and Education. Lampiris said lab workers are expected to wear gloves and gowns, and they do their work behind a protective "safety cabinet," or hood, while isolating the bacteria.

"He was an excellent lab worker and very fastidious," said Lampiris, chief of infectious disease at the San Francisco VA research institute. Lampiris said there were no signs of spills or mechanical failure in the lab where Din worked, which was decontaminated and temporarily closed pending investigations.

Officials with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have opened a joint investigation into Din's death. The CDC is researching whether the bacterial strain found in Din's bloodstream is the same strain he worked with in the lab.



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