Worst Lab Accidents in History

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The Marburg Virus Outbreak

In 1967, 31 workers at a laboratory in Marburg, Germany began suffering from an array of horrifying symptoms: fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and massive bleeding from a variety of internal organs. Seven of the workers would eventually succumb to their illnesses.

After an extensive investigation, scientists identified the source of the outbreak, a pair of grivet monkeys imported from Uganda for polio research. The primates were carrying a shocking, never-before-seen virus, which later was named Marburg for the city in which it was discovered. Researchers described it in Science:

By electron microscopy, the agent appeared cylindrical, 90 to 100 nanometers in diameter, and 130 to 2600 nanometers in length. Cross-striations at 5-nanometer intervals and a core diameter of 45 nanometers were observed. The agent was completely resistant to the effects of the metabolic inhibitor 5-bromodeoxyuridine, which may mean that RNA is the genetic material. It was sensitive to ether and relatively sensitive to destruction by heat.

Since its discovery, Marburg has remained mysterious, surfacing, killing, then disappearing. It spreads by contact with bodily fluids like blood, urine, or saliva. To date, the worst outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005. 252 cases were reported, 90% of which resulted in fatalities.

There is still no known cure.

Sources: ScienceBlogs, Science, PubMed

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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