Scientists studying the world’s deadliest diseases got more than they bargained for yesterday when a sample of tuberculosis was accidentally dropped in a closed sky bridge at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The lid of the fumbled sample reportedly came off, sparking fear of a tuberculosis outbreak within the buildings and prompting a full evacuation while staff and disease experts determined how to move forward.
The two buildings, which are connected by an enclosed, elevated bridge, are research centers. There were no patients in the facility at the time of the sample exposure, but the situation was still very serious. The sample was “equivalent to a few drops,” according to Dr. Landon King, executive vice dean of the school.
The Baltimore Fire Department was dispatched to the scene, placing a perimeter around the building while the scientists and hazmat crews figured out how to handle the incident. Staff were prevented from re-entering the building. The source of the possible contamination was said to be a vial of frozen tuberculosis.
The building’s air circulation systems were shut down shortly after the sample exposure to prevent the airborne disease from spreading, effectively isolating it. With hazmat equipment equipped, safety officials and disease experts cleared the buildings and determined that there was no danger to staff. The evacuation was lifted shortly thereafter.
Tuberculosis is an incredibly infectious and deadly disease. As CDC notes, over 10 million people were diagnosed with TB in 2016, and 1.7 million of those patients lost their lives as a result. The rates are much lower in the United states, with just over 9,000 cases in the same year. Symptoms of TB infection include fever and bloody coughing, and treatment can take six months or even longer.
The hospital later released a statement on the incident:
Earlier today, a small sample of frozen tuberculosis that was being used for research purposes was inadvertently released in a non-patient area. This occurred on a bridge between two research buildings that do not connect to the hospital. The Baltimore City Fire and Rescue unit initiated hazmat protocols and, out of an abundance of caution, both research buildings were evacuated. Public safety officials as well as infectious disease experts have now cleared the buildings, and the evacuation has been lifted. We have confirmed that there was no risk to anyone on campus. We want to thank our employees for their quick response to the situation as well as the Baltimore City Fire Department.