Monday, 21 August 2017 12:52

Fostering a culture of safety in the microbiology lab

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In July 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection identified an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium infections associated with clinical and teaching microbiology labs. The outbreak affected 16 states, with 24 people infected. This strain of Salmonella Typhimurium had previously caused lab-associated outbreaks in 2014 and 2011.

After the 2011 outbreak, two members of the ASM Task Committee on Laboratory Safety developed a set of resources around teaching and clinical lab practices. These include a webinar discussing the outbreak and best practices for working in labs of different biosafety levels. The Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education (JMBE) also published an article highlighting these guidelines, with the hope that promoting good practices early will help students carry on with them as they graduate into the professional world. 

JMBE: Biosafety Guidelines for Handling Microorganisms in the Teaching Laboratory: Development and Rationale

Working with microbial pathogens involves inherent risk, and proper precautions must be taken when handling any potential infectious agents. Through interviews with those infected in the recent outbreak, many Salmonella-infected laboratorians reported behaviors that may have increased their risk of infection. By not wearing gloves or lab coats, not properly washing hands, or using notebooks and pens both in and outside of the lab, lab workers may have carried the bacterium outside of the lab. These practices put not only staff working with the bacteria at risk, but also those who interact with staff, including family members.

Screen Shot 2017 08 21 at 12.45.37 PMBiological Safety: Principles and Practices. Source.

Well-developed biosafety practices are especially important in the clinical microbiology lab, where each patient sample is an unknown, and the risk of lab-acquired infections is particularly high. Needle sticks, aerosol inhalation, and back-splash incidents are all possible routes of infection, especially before the infectious agent is identified. Constantly assessing and mitigating potential risks to laboratorians helps foster a culture of safe practices.

The recently published book Biological Safety: Principles and Practices (5th Edition) contains suggestions for improving biosafety practices. The chapter “Components of a Biosafety Program for a Clinical Laboratory” highlights practices especially relevant to those working in clinical microbiology. Ensuring the safety of all who work with microbial pathogens is the first step toward good scientific results, and implementing risk-minimizing measures will foster a culture (pun intended) of safety in the microbiology lab. Read a free copy of this chapter, available until September 21, 2017, at the link below: 

Chapter 37: Components of a Biosafety Program for a Clinical Laboratory

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