A laboratory at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been shut down after the weekend death of a researcher, which was apparently caused by deadly bacteria he was working with, a VA official said Thursday.
The researcher, identified by the Medical Examiner’s Office as Richard Din, 25, died Saturday morning after working all week with a rare strain of the bacterium meningococcus that has no available vaccine, said Dr. Harry Lampiris, chief of infectious disease at the hospital.
Din’s research included growing the bacteria and isolating parts of it in the hopes of finding a vaccine, Lampiris said.
After leaving work Friday, Din apparently started feeling sick around 7 p.m. When his symptoms worsened Saturday, he was taken to the VA medical center, where he died, according to Lampiris.
The disease caused by the bacteria has an incubation period of three to five days, which “makes us think he was probably exposed during the workweek,” Lampiris said.
As a precaution, Din’s housemates and girlfriend, and the five people working with him at the lab, were given antibiotics to prevent them from getting the infection, he said.
About 60 people who were involved in treating him at the medical center also received the antibiotics, Lampiris said.
He said employees have been “profoundly devastated” by Din’s death.
VA officials held a town hall meeting about the tragedy Monday for its employees. About 200 people showed up, Lampiris said.
The lab has been closed indefinitely while the VA probes the incident, he said. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating.
Lampiris said there were “no obvious malfunctions or laboratory spills” that may have led to Din becoming infected.
Cal/OSHA has six months to finish a probe. If any workplace violations are uncovered, the employer could face citations and fines, spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said.
— Bay City News