Biological Risk Assessment: Zika Virus Detection at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine
Background. Biosafety is the application of containment principles and risk assessment. Risk assessment is an essential component of biological risk management program. It determines the most appropriate mitigation control measure to minimize the risk of Laboratory Acquired Infections (LAIs). In the laboratory response to emerging disease causing pathogen such as Zika virus, the risk for laboratory exposure and infection must be assessed.
Objectives. We have conducted biosafety risk assessment of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s (RITM) Virology Laboratory to identify the hazards, characterize the risks, determine laboratory compliance with biosafety standards and the competence of the laboratory personnel involved as part of the institutional preparedness for disease outbreak investigation and surveillance of Zika Virus. The information gathered shall guide the selection of appropriate mitigation control measures for the prevention of LAIs.
Methodology. We utilized the Biosafety for Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) 5th Edition guidelines in conducting risk assessment. Risk characterization was performed by determining the likelihood and the consequence of the identified biological risk and plotting it in a diagram using Microsoft Excel. Risk characterization of ZikV was compared using the risk assessment tool, BioRAM© developed by Sandia National Laboratory.
Results. The RITM Virology laboratory is generally compliant to the basic biosafety standards. Laboratory staff has established competence and experience in handling specimens for diagnostic test by ELISA and PCR. The risk of infection with ZikV is found to range from very low to low, however, the risk of acquiring other blood-borne pathogens brought by handling serum samples is found to be higher.
Conclusion. We have analyzed the risk of acquiring Zika at the RITM Virology laboratory as part of the institute’s overall preparedness, through biological risk assessment as described in BMBL 5th Edition. The risk of acquiring ZikV infection while performing diagnostic tests range from very low to low. The risk of acquiring other blood borne pathogens is higher compared to the risk of infection to the pathogen being assessed. Mitigation control measures against direct contact and percutaneous exposure must be implemented and monitored. This risk assessment strategy will further strengthen RITM laboratory’s capacity to respond to infectious disease threats and increase staff confidence in dealing with infectious materials in the laboratory.
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