It has become clear that common measures to eliminate the risk of spreading infectious diseases, from HAZMAT suits to chemical treatments, are not as effective as many believe. The recent Ebola scare was a high-profile example of how health centers and hospitals have a limited ability to prevent dangerous bacteria from infecting staff and patients. Studies have also shown an alarming level of hospital-acquired infections across the U.S. and the world.
But it isn’t just at hospitals and clinics that infectious diseases are a constant threat. Even the most high-clearance research facilities in the world have demonstrated frailty. Several reports reveal scientists being exposed to live pathogens by accident. Recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed labs held forgotten vials of smallpox – not something that should be lying around, unaccounted for.
This carelessness is alarming, but these labs are taking measures to reduce incidents like these. Human error is going to happen – labs need to put systems in place such that when human error does occur, it is contained and does no harm.
“Biosafety facilities need to have a backup plan.”
The levels of Biosafety
According to the CDC, “Biosafety is the application of safety precautions that reduce a laboratorian’s risk of exposure to a potentially infectious microbe and limit contamination of the work environment and, ultimately, the community.”
Because infectious diseases vary greatly in their ability to spread and the harm they inflict, the CDC assigns its research facilities one of four levels. Biosafety Level 1 labs contain microbes that are not known to cause significant risk to healthy adults, like non-pathogenic E. coli. As such, these labs do not require heavy preventative measures. On the other end of the spectrum, BSL-4 facilities house exotic, highly pathogenic microbes with little to no known treatment and a high risk of death upon exposure. Ebola and anthrax are the types of bacteria that exist in BSL-4 labs.
There are a small number of BSL-4 facilities in the U.S. and around the globe and they require significant preparation and safety precautions. The work spaces must be fumigated or otherwise disinfected after testing is complete and the technician should be outfitted with heavy-duty PPE.
Still, there is no room for error in BSL-4 and, to a certain degree, BSL-3 labs. These contain pathogens that can be used in bioterrorism and, if released, could do catastrophic damage to a community. No amount of preparation can undo a single misstep. That’s why these facilities need to have a backup plan – a system in place that will kill or deactivate all bacteria before they have a chance to leave the facility.
Facilities rely on advanced disinfectant techniques
BSL-3 and -4 labs go through great lengths to implement the necessary disinfection protocols that will ensure no dangerous pathogens escape. However, that often means fumigation and the use of powerful chemicals like chlorine dioxide or formaldehyde. These techniques get the job done but require intensive preparation and could have negative effects on sensitive equipment.
Fortunately, there is a non-corrosive, fast-acting and highly effective product that BSL-3 and -4 facilities around the world have begun to use. SteraMist™ Binary Ionization Technology (BIT™) from TOMI Environmental Solutions was developed in coordination with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) after 9-11 to neutralize weaponized anthrax. This innovative technology utilizes nature’s best disinfectant, Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) created from Activated Ionized Hydrogen Peroxide (AIHP) to inactivate microorganisms for a broad-spectrum surface disinfection.
Recently, one of the top biological safety labs in the US, the Galveston National Laboratory located at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston tested and employed the SteraMist™ BIT™ system to disinfect their laboratory room surfaces. As this and other facilities worldwide demonstrate the efficacy of this system, integrating SteraMist™ BIT™ into disinfection protocols will provide one more method to preventing human error from unleashing a devastating pathogen. Find TOMI at the upcoming American Biological Safety Association Conference to learn more about the SteraMist™ BIT™ system.
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