JOURNAL ARTICLE
RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
REVIEW
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Assessing the risk of laboratory-acquired meningococcal disease.

Neisseria meningitidis is infrequently reported as a laboratory-acquired infection. Prompted by two cases in the United States in 2000, we assessed this risk among laboratorians. We identified cases of meningococcal disease that were possibly acquired or suspected of being acquired in a laboratory by placing an information request on e-mail discussion groups of infectious disease, microbiology, and infection control professional organizations. A probable case of laboratory-acquired meningococcal disease was defined as illness meeting the case definition for meningococcal disease in a laboratorian who had occupational exposure to an N. meningitidis isolate of the same serogroup within 14 days of illness onset. Sixteen cases of probable laboratory-acquired meningococcal disease occurring worldwide between 1985 and 2001 were identified, including six U.S. cases between 1996 and 2000. Nine cases (56%) were serogroup B; seven (44%) were serogroup C. Eight cases (50%) were fatal. All cases occurred among clinical microbiologists. In 15 cases (94%), isolate manipulation was performed without respiratory protection. We estimated that an average of three microbiologists are exposed to the 3,000 meningococcal isolates seen in U.S. laboratories yearly and calculated an attack rate of 13/100,000 microbiologists between 1996 and 2001, compared to 0.2/100,000 among U.S. adults in general. The rate and case/fatality ratio of meningococcal disease among microbiologists are higher than those in the general U.S. population. Specific risk factors for laboratory-acquired infection are likely associated with exposure to droplets or aerosols containing N. meningitidis. Prevention should focus on the implementation of class II biological safety cabinets or additional respiratory protection during manipulation of suspected meningococcal isolates.

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