September 22, 2009

Precautions after scientist’s plague death

About 100 people possibly exposed to plague-related bacteria blamed for a Chicago scientist's death have been given antibiotics as a precaution, officials say.

Federal health officials are at the University of Chicago, where they have sealed off the laboratory of geneticist Malcolm Casadaban, who died Sept. 13, while they investigate what happened. Initial autopsy results revealed the presence of a version of Yersenia pestis bacteria he had been researching, the Chicago Tribune reported.

City health officials said Monday none of those given the precautionary drugs had shown any symptoms of contracting the plague.

There is no evidence at all of (a) spread, city Public Health Department spokesman Tim Hadac said.

John Easton, spokesman for the University of Chicago Medical Center, said there was no sign the bacteria Casadaban was working with had any dangerous components. It was developed as a plague vaccine in the late 1960s, the newspaper said.

Investigators are looking into whether Casadaban's genetic makeup made him susceptible. An initial autopsy showed no causes of death other than the presence of the bacteria in his body, the Tribune said.