Biosaftey in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Public Health Service
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institutes of Health
HHS Publication No. (CDC) 21-1112

Over the past two decades, Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) has become the code of practice for biosafety—the discipline addressing the safe handling and containment of infectious microorganisms and hazardous biological materials. The principles of biosafety introduced in 1984 in the first edition of BMBL1 and carried through in this fifth edition remain steadfast. These principles are containment and risk assessment. The fundamentals of containment include the microbiological practices, safety equipment, and facility safeguards that protect laboratory workers, the environment, and the public from exposure to infectious microorganisms that are handled and stored in the laboratory. Risk assessment is the process that enables the appropriate selection of microbiological practices, safety equipment, and facility safeguards that can prevent laboratory-associated infections (LAI).

The purpose of periodic updates of BMBL is to refine guidance based on new knowledge and experiences and to address contemporary issues that present new risks that confront laboratory workers and the public health. In this way the code of practice will continue to serve the microbiological and biomedical community as a relevant and valuable authoritative reference.

We are living in an era of uncertainty and change. New infectious agents and diseases have emerged. Work with infectious agents in public and private research, public health, clinical and diagnostic laboratories, and in animal care facilities has expanded. Recent world events have demonstrated new threats of bioterrorism. For these reasons, organizations and laboratory directors are compelled to evaluate and ensure the effectiveness of their biosafety programs, the proficiency of their workers, as well as the capability of equipment, facilities, and management practices to provide containment and security of microbiological agents. Similarly, individual workers who handle pathogenic microorganisms must understand the containment conditions under which infectious agents can be safely manipulated and secured. Application of this knowledge and the use of appropriate techniques and equipment will enable the microbiological and biomedical community to prevent personal, laboratory and environmental exposure to potentially infectious agents or biohazards.

The Occurrence of Laboratory-Associated Infections

Published reports of LAIs first appeared around the start of the twentieth century. By 1978, four studies by Pike and Sulkin collectively identified 4,079 LAIs resulting in 168 deaths occurring between 1930 and 1978.2-5 These studies found that the ten most common causative agents of overt infections among workers were Brucella spp., Coxiella burnetii, hepatitis B virus (HBV), Salmonella typhi, Francisella tularensis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Blastomyces dermatitidis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, Chlamydia psittaci, and Coccidioides immitis. The authors acknowledged that the 4,079 cases did not represent all LAIs that occurred during this period since many laboratories chose not to report overt cases or conduct surveillance programs to identify sub-clinical or asymptomatic infections.

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