Transport of Laboratory Personnel Exposed to Dangerous Pathogens, MD

An NBIC facility at Ft. Detrick, MD (Credit: US Army Corps of Engineers)

The Federal Register published a notice today from the Department of Health and Human Services detailing the transport of potentially infected laboratory workers at the new National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC) in Ft. Detrick, MD.  The campus hosts researchers from a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), and the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID),which conduct research in Biosafety level  3 and 4 laboratories.  Such laboratories are required to work with dangerous pathogens, such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Ebolavirus sp (Ebola).

In the event that a laboratory worker is exposed to a dangerous pathogen, they will be transported approximately 40 miles to the NIH Special Clinical Studies Unit in Bethesda, MD.  The unit is a specially designed applied research facility that would allow for the safe evaluation and/or treatment of exposed laboratory workers.  It is staffed with full-time infectious disease researchers with convenient access to outside consultation from infectious disease specialists in neighboring NIH facilities.  Transport, provided with escort service, would be arranged between 5 agencies: the NIH, Fort Detrick Directorate of Emergency Services, Frederick County Police, Montgomery County Police, and the Maryland State Police.  The vulnerability assessment concluded that the risks involved would be negligible.   Transportation staff would also be trained to readily handle incidents that may occur while in transit, such as an accident or mechanical failure.

After requiring over two years of development and deliberation, this transport plan appeared to be the most rational protocol to enact. Some rejected suggestions include the transportation of an exposed laboratory worker to the nearby Frederick Memorial Hospital, the construction of a new clinic, or the upgrade of an existing clinic at Fort Detrick.  These options were abandoned since the treatment at the Frederick Memorial Hospital would be too disruptive to daily hospital operations, and the personnel requirements to adequately staff a rarely used, on-site clinic would be a poor, and possibly detrimental, use of human capital.

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