After three Boston University professors became ill while working with Tularemia bacteria, University waited almost two weeks before notifying
officials. Local agencies and the FBI are investigating. Tularemia is on a list of pathogens that can be used as bio-weapons and which the FBI
investigates. Dr. Peter A. Rice, who was in charge of the research has been demoted as a result of his lack of control over the research process and
for delaying the legally mandated notifications.
Boston University officials waited nearly two weeks to notify public health authorities that they had serious concerns that researchers might have
been exposed to a potentially lethal bacterium while conducting experiments, a delay that could have violated laws requiring prompt reporting of
suspected infectious disease cases.
The university yesterday confirmed that on Oct. 28, test results showed that researchers who had thought they were working with a harmless variety of
the bacteria tularemia instead had been working with material that appeared to be contaminated and that might have caused illnesses in three
researchers. In May, two scientists had fallen ill with flu-like symptoms, and in September, a third became ill, raising suspicions that they had
On Nov. 4, Dr. Peter A. Rice, the senior scientist involved in the research, was ordered by the university's Institutional Biosafety Committee to
immediately cease all his work on developing a vaccine against the bacterium because of concerns about the safety of workers, BU said.
But the suspected cases of tularemia were not reported to the state Department of Public Health until Nov. 9 and to the Boston Public Health
Commission until Nov. 10. The city's director of communicable disease control, Dr. Anita Barry, said last night that BU "should have notified us as
soon as someone suspected a case of tularemia."
Tularemia is a reportable disease in Massachusetts, and state law requires "cases or suspect cases" of such diseases to be reported to public health
authorities "immediately, but in no case more than 24 hours" after being identified.
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As it turns out, the researchers were under the impression they were working with non-virulent strains of the agent, but those specimens had become
contaminated with virulent strains. Clearly, work with pathogens is a highly dangerous enterprise and it is very important that protocols be
followed. This situation, which seemingly persisted for some time, had the potential to contaminate the public and delaying the notification process
was a decidedly negligent act.
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[edit on 05/1/20 by GradyPhilpott]