The apparent escape from a high-security lab of a dangerous bacterium that led federal officials last month to suspend research on certain high-risk pathogens at Tulane University has left questions about an ongoing investigation of the incident and broader risks.
According to a lengthy 1 March news article in USA Today, two rhesus macaques at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, Louisiana, that fell ill in early November later tested positive for infection with Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found naturally in soil and water in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Center researchers had been working with rodents on a vaccine for the bacterium, which can cause a sometimes serious illness called melioidosis in animals and people. The two macaques, which later had to be euthanized, and two other rhesus macaques that tested positive for the bacterium may have been exposed while being treated at the center’s hospital.
Adding to concerns, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigator who visited the site in late January fell seriously ill a day later and tested positive for Burkholderia pseudomallei. It is not clear whether the investigator, who has since recovered, was infected at Tulane or earlier during travel abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in February. The agency said it had suspended all studies at the center involving select agents, a list of dangerous viruses, bacteria, and toxins that are tightly regulated. That includes about 10 projects, USA Today reports.