Science FTW
March 29, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

A German researcher accidentally jabbed her finger with a hypodermic loaded with the deadly Ebola virus. 48 hours later, she was injected with an untested, experimental vaccine, developed by an international team of virologists and biologists. Though she may never have been infected, she was certainly in danger; in 2004, a similar incident caused the death of a Russian scientist at a former Soviet biological weapons lab.
posted by permafrost (39 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Safety Syringes, for the Darwin Awards nominee in your lab.
posted by stavrogin at 2:07 PM on March 29, 2009


I hope she lives. Succumbing to Ebola must be a horrible way to die.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2009


Still better than getting a single drop of dimethylmercury on your latex glove.
posted by Justinian at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. I worked in a virology lab, with viruses that don't even warrant comparison to Ebola and I was very, very scared of infecting myself. I will be following this story, with hope, for a happy outcome.
posted by Science! at 2:21 PM on March 29, 2009


You know, if I had to work with something potentially fatal, I'd much rather it was instantly so. I would hate to have to wait to see if I was going to be OK or not. Did I read that right in the article, that it takes 21 days to find out if you've actually been infected with Ebola after exposure to it? Yikes.
posted by FishBike at 2:29 PM on March 29, 2009


That poor woman. I nearly vomited in sympathetic terror when I read that. I can't imagine what must be going through her head. I can only hope that if I ever do something so calamitous I die before I have to think about what I did.
posted by chudmonkey at 2:31 PM on March 29, 2009


You know, if I had to work with something potentially fatal, I'd much rather it was instantly so. I would hate to have to wait to see if I was going to be OK or not.

One of the reasons scientists think Ebola never turned into a huge epidemic is that it kills so quickly, just a few days IIRC, so it doesn't have time to spread. If it took months and was still as contagious and lethal, it could have been a much bigger problem.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 PM on March 29, 2009


jesus, i used to have nightmares about that bug back in the early nineties. i was totally convinced that it was going to stalk me down in san francisco and just finish off the city. a predictable nightmare, i suppose.

yeah, here's hoping that the researcher pulls through. and mad, mad shouts to the international ebola research community for coming through so quickly. what an effort on their part, you know?
posted by artof.mulata at 3:12 PM on March 29, 2009


Foci for Analysis: "Acidentally jabbed her finger? Has this researcher previously worked for the NYPD?"

Permafrost said jabbed in the post, but the linked article uses the verbs "pricked" and "stuck".
posted by Plutor at 3:14 PM on March 29, 2009


Through 3 layers of gloves no less.

Something seems amiss with that, frankly. I'd think safety syringes and impermeable coverings would be the norm for Ebola research.

But it's an amazing story, and I hope like crazy she's OK.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:45 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Could you cut of your finger, hand or arm in time if you needed to? Assuming of course had the means and ability.
posted by srboisvert at 3:53 PM on March 29, 2009


off not of. Dammit... is there a typo takeback greasemonkey script to make up for my egregious poofreading inability?
posted by srboisvert at 3:55 PM on March 29, 2009


For the many nations and your very own that have consistently been working with stuff of this nature under the guise of prevention but in fact also for warfare, see SIX-LEGGED SOLDIERS: Using Insects as Weapons of War, by Jeffrey A. Lockwood. And yes, not just insects being studied.In fact there is a lawsuit by some former Viet Nam soldiers who claim they had been used in experiments by the CIA and that they got ill and have not been given the medical help promised. (that is not in the book I refer to.
posted by Postroad at 4:05 PM on March 29, 2009


God damn, I just got used to the idea of injection pain meds and then this. I hope the vaccine works for her.

fourcheesemac, I kinda thought the same thing -- even blood drawn for labwork at my doctor has a sort of safety sheath that withdraws the needle after use. I guess it's just procedural inertia, though. A real tragedy.
posted by boo_radley at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2009


Could you cut of your finger, hand or arm in time if you needed to? Assuming of course had the means and ability.

Quick googling suggests it takes about 1 minute to circulate the entire blood supply, so I'm going to go with a qualified "no".


the qualification being that I suppose if you were running your wrist under a bandsaw at the precise moment you stuck yourself with a needle, there might be an outside chance... and even then, sure, you've avoided infection, but what mistakes have you made with your life that you have to deal with bandsaws and syringes simultaneously... maybe you'de be better off... just saying.
posted by logicpunk at 4:22 PM on March 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Nova or Frontline had a show on the lack of security at the former soviet labs and they told this story (warning tin-foil hat site, the only link I could find) about a scientist who stuck himself with weaponized Marburg (a lot like Eboba), his remains were placed in a steel coffin and welded shut.
posted by 445supermag at 4:30 PM on March 29, 2009


Could you cut of your finger, hand or arm in time if you needed to? Assuming of course had the means and ability.

You'd also have to cauterize the wound somehow as you cut, or there's just more possibly infected blood everywhere to infect others. Before you know it there'd be an abattoir on (what once were) your hands.
posted by rewil at 4:36 PM on March 29, 2009


Here's the transcript from the frontline show (1998), search text on Ustinov to jump to the section.
posted by 445supermag at 4:43 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought vaccines couldn't work after the fact.
posted by Eideteker at 4:59 PM on March 29, 2009


"Safety Syringes, for the Darwin Awards nominee in your lab."

Can someone whose worked with these things explain how you can isolate the business end of a needle yet still be able to use it to inject things into flesh?
posted by Mitheral at 5:12 PM on March 29, 2009


Mitheral: It looks like the plastic sheath is spring-loaded. You disable the lock then press on the surface you wish to inject. The sheath will move back on the spring and the needle will sink into the target. Not fool-proof, but clearly better than a naked needle.
posted by odinsdream at 5:17 PM on March 29, 2009


egregious poofreading inability

We call poofreading "gaydar" nowadays, but don't feel bad if you don't have it.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:19 PM on March 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


A scientist accidentally pricked her finger with a needle used to inject the deadly Ebola virus into lab mice.

Ha.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2009


Now that's a bummer.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 5:24 PM on March 29, 2009


I thought vaccines couldn't work after the fact.

Well, "the fact" isn't necessarily the moment when infection takes place.

The treatment for rabies is post-bite vaccination. The reason it works is that the rabies virus builds up slowly, but the vaccination hits the immune system full force, so by the time the rabies viruses do increase in number to the point of being a hazard, the immune system is already sensitized and ready to rumble.

I think they were hoping the same would be true in this case. I hope so, too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:55 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Humans are just bad at performing automated tasks. You can put in place safety precautions, but they will occasionally break down. A postdoc (in the same lab as me) came up with a conspiracy theory: the researcher volunteered to claim to have stuck herself so that she could be injected with the vaccine and get around human trial roadblocks for a potentially profitable (and life-saving) vaccine. However, this same postdoc (the conspiracy theorist that is) subsequently accidentally jabbed herself with a syringe containing tetrodotoxin. It was during the dilution process (and there are safety protocols in place, but...) and fortunately it was at low molarity. So it was merely an amusing story, for certain values of "amusing".

This is the same reason that I've become gradually more and more paranoid about driving. I don't think humans have the attentional ... maturity ... to engage in that kind of task. 40K dead per year in the U.S. seem to agree.
posted by Humanzee at 6:13 PM on March 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Good lord, the story of Dr. Ustinov made my blood curdle. Scary stuff.
posted by FuturisticDragon at 6:31 PM on March 29, 2009


Based upon this I'm kinda surprised that a facility like this (Level 4 Biosafety) doesn't use some sort of kevlar "stick-proof" glove for people that are using sharp objects like syringes and scalpels and/or dealing with large potential dangerous animals that have been exposed to a level 4 biohazard. I'm not sure how many of these facilities work with chimps or monkeys, but I assume that at least some do based upon the Ebola Reston outbreak and they close relationship between humans and chimps/monkeys.

In the end it's always going to be a trade-off between fine motor control necessary for doing things like autopsies and safety of the technician. in this case it seems that safety was on the loosing end of the equation. Definitely feel sympathy for the researcher, if she gets infected ebola seems like a particularly gruesome way to die .
posted by vuron at 7:23 PM on March 29, 2009


Doctors have been worrying about HIV-infected needle sticks or cuts during surgery for years. Back in the 80's, somebody came up with the idea of developing a fine-mesh chainmail gloves that could be worn underneath latex gloves to provide some extra protection. It wouldn't have eliminated all risk in this particular case, maybe.
posted by Araucaria at 8:33 PM on March 29, 2009


Must find the German phrase for "Oh ... shit."
posted by kenlayne at 9:15 PM on March 29, 2009


some sort of kevlar "stick-proof" glove

Anything you can sew, a needle can penetrate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:29 PM on March 29, 2009


"Can someone whose worked with these things explain how you can isolate the business end of a needle yet still be able to use it to inject things into flesh?"

With the Vanishpoint needle and popular alternatives, the only benefit is that one can minimize the amount of time that the needle point is exposed. This significantly reduces but doesn't entirely eliminate needle sticks, considering they most often happen while handling/disposing of the needle. I'm a paramedic and have seen statistics from the hospitals I am associated with that show unbelievable reductions in sticks simply by buying (the more expensive) retractable/protective shield variety. Compounding that is the adoption of needleless syringes that utilize blunt plastic points to link IV lines, etc. These "tips" can pierce the rubber barrier to the IV line but can't pierce skin and obviate the need to even touch a needle in the first place.

That said, my impression is that like most sticks, this was the result of carelessness. Starting an IV or pushing a medication in the back of an ambulance doing ninety down a bumpy road and accidentally sticking yourself is much more understandable.
posted by inoculatedcities at 9:39 PM on March 29, 2009


Germany and Ebola you say?

A mysterious disease is rampant in Germany’s cattle barns. The afflicted two-to-three-week-old calves begin bleeding massively and are often dead within hours. More than 100 cases have been documented throughout Germany, most of them in Bavaria, but the number of unreported deaths is believed to be much higher. Cases have also been reported in Belgium, but experts are still puzzled over what causes the condition.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:42 PM on March 29, 2009


I used to work with viruses and was quite alarmed one day to learn that a strange rash was steadily traveling up my hand after several long days in the fume hood handling viral lysate with gloves, mask, and all due precautions. My mind started racing through all the ways that I might have been accidentally contaminated, but there had been no needlesticks or other accidents recently.

After a barrage of tests, turns out I had developed an allergy to latex gloves. I nearly hugged the doctor.

Best wishes for this woman.
posted by benzenedream at 10:11 PM on March 29, 2009


Scary, best wishes for her. I worked at the lab where Jeanette Adu-Bobie caught meningitis and ended up as a triple amputee, a few years after the incident. Since then I've have been very very reluctant to work with anything pathogenic, but have much respect for those who do.
posted by scodger at 10:30 PM on March 29, 2009


"Anything you can sew, a needle can penetrate."

If by sew you mean weave. One could use flexible puncture resistant materials, like say leather. after all we're talking about an accidental prick not heavy intentional force from a commercial sewing machine. Or overlapping plates of an inflexible material, like scales on a fish. And a micro scale chain mail would be puncture resistant as long as the links had a smaller inside diameter than the outside diameter of the needle (actually better than that as the thickness of the interlocking links can be subtracted from the interal radius).

The drawback of course being feel.
posted by Mitheral at 5:05 AM on March 30, 2009


You'd also have to cauterize the wound somehow as you cut, or there's just more possibly infected blood everywhere to infect others.

Yeah, you'd have to have a HOT bandsaw running over your wrist at the right moment. The chances would be slim.
posted by starfyr at 9:42 AM on March 30, 2009


Holy s***, rough ashlar, that's a scary link.
posted by Decimask at 6:07 PM on March 30, 2009


She's fine, by the way.
posted by logicpunk at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2009


« Older A map of the top 50 craft breweries in America by ...  |  Barcelona 1908... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments