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, Stef Evans.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."