Safe Laboratory Techniques
Research with disease-producing microorganisms has always presented hazards for the unwary. In the late nineteenth century, as the relationship between microorganisms and human diseases began to be understood, the scientists who were studying microorganisms that had been isolated from disease victims sometimes also became victims of the same disease. For example, in 1884, typhoid bacilli were first isolated and less than a year later the first case of laboratory-acquired typhoid fever occurred. 1884 was also the year that the famous German bacteriologist, Robert Koch, first isolated the etiologic agent of cholera, and in 1886 a laboratory-acquired cholera infection was reported, presumably the result of a pipetting accident, probably aspiration. Three years later, in 1889, the tetanus bacillus was isolated and four years after that, a syringe- and-needle accident resulted in a tetanus infection in a laboratory worker. Other laboratory-acquired infections involving pipets and syringes and needles occurred with the agents of diphtheria, glanders, and brucellosis during 1897 and 1898. In fact, the history of microbiology is replete with stories of medical martyrs who, in the absence of knowledge of the extreme hazards of the organisms they studied, both deliberately or accidentally became infected and died of laboratory-acquired disease. Working with agents of such deadly diseases eventually taught research workers the proper techniques necessary for handling hazardous agents, and these techniques are now among the fundamental skills that every worker in a biomedical laboratory must learn.
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