Details emerge about Arizona Mayo Clinic staff exposed to dangerous bacteria

Details are emerging about three Mayo Clinic employees at a lab in Phoenix who were exposed to deadly bacteria in 2021 known as Burkholderia pseudomallei — sometimes called Whitmore’s disease. It is the same bacteria the CDC issued an endemic warning about, according to U.S. News & World Report

All three employees underwent testing for infection, and it was determined none had contracted the virus. While the incident happened two years ago, a study recounting the efforts to control any possible infections was published May 31 in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

Lab employees were exposed while testing a swab sample from a 58-year-old man who was hospitalized with a mycotic aneurysm. The report states that the bacteria had begun growing on the sample and throughout testing three individuals were then exposed. After further testing, the B. pseudomallei was suspected and then confirmed after sending it to the Mayo Clinic headquarters in Minnesota for additional testing.

While the exposed employees were reportedly wearing protective equipment and lab infections of this kind are rare, the Mayo Clinic had each individual monitor their temperature and report any symptoms over a 21-day period to ensure safety. None of the three reported any fever or developed symptoms during the monitoring period. 

Mayo Clinic researchers say the exposure was caused by a "lack of clinical and laboratory suspicion for B. pseudomallei [which] resulted in incidental laboratory exposure of three employees." It cautions other laboratories to be "vigilant for and aware of the growth characteristics associated with B. pseudomallei to help avoid occupational exposure."

On a national level, now that the bacteria has been declared endemic, the CDC website states that it is working with state health officials "to determine how widespread the bacteria is within the continental United States." 

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