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HSE probe over smallpox lab blunder

Jan 11 2001 19:54
Mustafa Arif
College procedures under review after student accidentally infects himself with genetically modified disease.
Imperial's lab safety procedures are under scrutiny from the HSE.

An investigation is under way after it was revealed that Alasdair Pennycook, a postgraduate medical student at St Mary’s accidentally infected himself with smallpox. He carried the highly infectious disease, which can cause blindness for more than a week after an incident during a laboratory experiment. In that time he is understood to have spent several days on an open hospital ward, where he came into contact with other patients and staff, before being diagnosed by fellow students.

The accident happened in August when Mr Pennycook, 24 from Scotland, was conducting an experiment on a genetically-modified strain of vaccinia virus, which is used for Smallpox vaccinations. He is understood to be making a full recovery. However, the Health & Safety Executive (or HSE) has launched a probe into Imperial’s lab safety procedures, particularly at the St Mary’s site. The HSE have cited concerns over public safety, as well as that of staff and students and may decide to prosecute College.

While stressing that he was unaware of the facts, .uk, ICU's Deputy President for Education and Welfare said he found the prospect of student research endangering themselves, and possibly others as "extremely disturbing and worrying."

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Discussion about “HSE probe over smallpox lab blunder”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Jan 12 2001 14:34

I believe that the strain he infected himself with was not infectious, i.e. he couldn't have passed it on in the ward.

Jan 12 2001 21:21

Really? That wasn't the impression I got from the newspaper reports...

Jan 17 2001 14:34

In fact there are only two places in the world which hold live smallpox viruses, one in Russia and one in America. This strain was a disabled vaccine strain. As for the newspapers, well the amount of "scientific rubbish" I have seen in them is a joke.


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