A recent report from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has revealed that a supervisor with the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg was infected by one of the diseases that he was researching in 2012 – and that the employee had insufficient safety training at the time.
The report – which has not been released publicly, although the National Post obtained a copy of it before breaking the story on Oct. 4 – was reportedly one of several that the PHAC prepared about lab workers who contract the diseases with which they experiment.
Sylwia Krzyszton, senior advisor of media relations with the PHAC, confirmed to COHSN that the incident had occurred, but could not provide many specific details.
“The pathogen involved was a level 2 enteric pathogen,” said Krzyszton. “Level 2 enteric pathogens include E. coli and salmonella. Naming the specific pathogen would compromise the confidentiality of the person in question.”
Krzyszton added that the pathogens that researchers handle in the NML’s containment level 2 laboratories include those listed in Schedule 2 of the federal Human Pathogen and Toxins Act, which was consolidated in 2009 and last amended in June 2012; the list includes numerous bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa.
“These types of pathogens pose a moderate individual risk and a low community risk, given treatments are available,” she said.
While the incident occurred three years ago, no employees have contracted any laboratory-acquired infections in the period since, said Krzyszton. “Since then, all corrective measures have been taken, including enhanced training, monitoring and oversight.”
Specifically, the laboratory has since initiated a formal safety-training program that is mandatory for all employees and supervisors. The NML now closely supervises all new trainees until they pass the required training courses. “The supervisor completed the required training immediately following the incident,” said Krzyszton, referring to the worker who was infected in 2012.
In addition, the NML has hired a training coordinator who provides information about what specific training courses individual employees need and who points out cases in which workers require retraining.
“Audits take place on a regular basis to monitor adherence to improved practices,” added Krzyszton.
As Canada’s primary infectious-disease public-health laboratory, the NML is part of Winnipeg’s Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health, which is the world’s first research facility to house high containment laboratories for both human and animal health in the same building, according to information from the PHAC website. The laboratory’s purpose is to identify, control and prevent infectious diseases through laboratory surveillance, emergency preparedness and response, training and research.
Media reports have stated that the infected supervisor recovered from the disease within a week. Before the incident, he had never received any training in biological or chemical spills, bio-safety or general laboratory safety, the PHAC review reportedly noted.
“The health and safety of our employees is a top priority,” said Krzyszton.