France’s distinguished Institut Pasteur, which was among the first to isolate HIV in the 1980s, admitted on Monday that it has lost some 2,349 vials in 29 boxes, containing samples of the deadly SARS virus.
Oh, hey - these things happen all the time, and the French say there's no need to worry about it, so there's that; it only kills around 10% of infected people anyway. Interestingly, this revelation follows yesterday's discussion in Slate of pathogen "escapes" from biolabs.
The danger of a manmade pandemic sparked by a laboratory escape is not hypothetical: One occurred in 1977, and it occurred because of concern that a natural pandemic was imminent. Many other laboratory escapes of high-consequence pathogens have occurred, resulting in transmission beyond laboratory personnel.Ironically, these laboratories were working with pathogens to prevent the very outbreaks they ultimately caused. For that reason, the tragic consequences have been called “self-fulfilling prophecies.”
But remember, these are trained professional scientists; they know what they're doing, and besides, they learned a lot from these events. It's where the rubber really meets the road, as some like to say. And your odds of infection are really low, anyway.
At least, that's what they think. On the other hand, who'd have thought that a harmless little staph bacteria would come down with a couple of viral infections, go through a few minor mutations, and emerge 35 years later as the highly infectious flesh-eating bacteria? And even more interestingly, it only attacks human flesh; dogs and cats and other critters aren't on the menu.
But don't worry, it doesn't really eat your tissues; it's misnamed:
Despite its name, flesh-eating bacteria — a type of streptococcus — doesn't consume flesh. What it does do is produce proteins that break down human skin, fat, and muscle — a process that causes flesh to die rather quickly. "One of the major proteins is an active ingredient in Adolph's meat tenderizer," says James Musser, an infectious disease expert at Houston Methodist Research Institute and co-author of the study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The ensuing disease, called necrotizing fasciitis, is very difficult to treat; although antibiotics can do the trick, skin-grafting and amputations are not uncommon. Worse yet, the disease causes death in 70 percent of cases if left untreated.
But at least it's not actually eating you alive; it's just tenderizing you to death. It only feels like you're being slowly eaten alive. Throw another drumstick on the barbie!