Deadly virus was han­dled out­side safety cabi­net

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE -

HUGH Pen­ning­ton re­mem­bers the Birm­ing­ham lab which achieved in­famy af­ter the virus es­caped.

Hav­ing worked there un­der Henry Bed­son’s di­rec­tion in 1969, he was ex­tremely fa­mil­iar with its lay­out and the staff who worked there ev­ery­day.

“It was re­ally quite mod­ern, well-equipped. It wasn’t de­signed as a lab to han­dle small­pox, although many al­ter­ations had been made to it so it could.

“The small­pox virus was han­dled in one small room – EG34b – which had safety cab­i­nets, but my un­der­stand­ing is that not all the virus was han­dled in the safety cabi­net.

“I don’t say cor­ners were cut, and it had moved on since I worked there in 1969 where we han­dled the virus in the open.

“At that time Henry said ‘I’m not go­ing to al­low you to work with var­i­ola ma­jor, which is the nasty small­pox, you’re go­ing to do this ex­per­i­men­tal work with var­i­ola mi­nor’. I was re­search­ing an anti-vi­ral drug.

“I don’t know whether he trusted me or not... he didn’t re­ally ex­plain it fully, but I was very happy to be work­ing on the var­i­ola mi­nor rather than the var­i­ola ma­jor.

“We had to be vac­ci­nated and look at all the reg­u­la­tions in the lab and not go into the tea room wear­ing our white coats, be­cause there were lots of pre­cau­tions.

“But it was on the open bench. We weren’t work­ing in safety cab­i­nets, so I sup­pose you could say we were tak­ing risks. Def­i­nitely.

“But there were three or four re­searchers and one or two tech­ni­cians who would be han­dling the virus and mak­ing sure that things were cleaned up at the end of the day, which was a very im­por­tant as­pect of han­dling the virus.

“All the ma­te­ri­als you’re us­ing are ei­ther boiled or au­to­claved or put into dis­in­fec­tant or in­cin­er­ated, in a way that it’s not go­ing to come out of the lab and in­fect some­body.

“There were clear rules and reg­u­la­tions about that which I’m sure were fol­lowed.”

> Birm­ing­ham Univer­sity Med­i­cal School

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.