Worker exposed to dangerous bacteria at Tulane monkey lab

Posted at 7:32 AM, Mar 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-12 07:32:42-04

(CNN) — An employee at the Tulane National Primate Research Center near New Orleans has tested positive for a potentially deadly strain of bacteria kept at the facility.

The employee is not sick, and Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the bacteria are not likely to be a threat to the general population.

The worker tested positive to exposure of Burkholderia pseudomallei, which can cause can cause melioidosis, or Whitmore’s disease.

“It is predominately a disease of tropical climates, especially in Southeast Asia and northern Australia where it is widespread,” according to the CDC website.

The CDC is waiting on additional test results to determine if the exposure occurred at the research center or somewhere else, McDonald said.

The CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture are at the campus, continuing an investigation that began in November when two monkeys were diagnosed with Whitmore’s disease. Six others have antibodies indicating exposure to the bacterium.

Since then federal health officials have been working with state and local officials to investigate the source. Blood tests have been conducted on nearly 70 primates at the center, with one testing positive for antibodies, McDonald said.

According to the CDC, “the bacteria causing melioidosis are found in contaminated water and soil. It is spread to humans and animals through direct contact with the contaminated source.”