A laboratory at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been shut down following the weekend death of a researcher that was apparently caused by deadly bacteria he was working with, a VA official said today.
The researcher, identified by the medical examiner's office as 25-year-old Richard Din, 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 San Francisco VA.
Din's research included growing the bacteria and isolating parts of it in the hopes of finding a vaccine, Lampiris said.
After leaving work on 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 at the center have been "profoundly devastated" by Din's death.
VA officials held a town hall meeting on Monday for its employees to discuss the tragedy and to offer grief counseling. About 200 people showed up, Lampiris said.
The lab has been closed indefinitely while the VA investigates the incident, he said. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating Din's death.
Lampiris said there were "no obvious malfunctions or laboratory spills" that may have led to Din becoming infected.
"We're waiting for further guidance on what we might be able to do to prevent this from happening in the future," he said. "Laboratory safety is always an ongoing concern, and I'm sure this will lead to some changes in our practices."
Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said Din was employed by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing veterans' health research that is based at the VA medical center at 4150 Clement St.
Cal/OSHA has six months to complete an investigation, and if any workplace violations are uncovered, the employer could face citations and fines, Monterroza said.