Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Dangerous Job

I don't generally consider my job a dangerous job. I'm not a wild-animal photographer, where there is a possibility that I may get attacked. I'm not in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. I'm not a cop, or a firefighter. I'm not FBI, or DEA. I'm not any of hundreds of types of jobs that I would consider dangerous.

But today I had a conversation that reminded me of how dangerous my job could be.

I work with a bacterial agent. It is lethal. There are strains that are resistant to all but 1 or 2 antibiotics, and we routinely work with those strains. Now, don't be too alarmed, we work very carefully, we work in Biosafety Cabinets, wear masks and, in certain rooms, full body Tyvek suits. When we work with infected animals, we are careful, wear double layer gloves, masks, hats, gowns, and shoe covers, in restricted access rooms with air flows designed to reduce exposure to the agent.

But still. If an accident were to happen, a mouse bites me hard enough to break both pairs of gloves, or a flask breaks, or a tube falls and it breaks open and the agent is aerosolized, there is a danger.

At 48 hours, we cannot rescue our animals. That is, if the infection goes untreated for as little as 48 hours, we cannot save the animal. There is no amount of antibiotic that we can give that can prevent death. This is the same for humans. If I spike a fever, I better be in an ER within hours, because 8 hours one direction or another can be enough to kill or save me. If the ER room doesn't respond properly, they put me in mortal danger, and risk exposing everyone in the facility to the agent.

I don't usually think of my job as a dangerous job. But I guess, when I look at it this way, my job is probably right up there.

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