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Outbreaks and Safety Concerns in Biodefense Research

Ethical Questions

Hypothetical scenario: During a basic lab procedure you accidentally poke a lab needle through your glove and infect yourself; however, you fail to notice it initially. Three days later you begin to show cold symptoms, and for a quick remedy you take some cold medicine and hope to feel better before your long flight cross country to visit some relatives next week.

Soon the symptoms become more severe, and realize you are displaying the same symptoms of infected lab mice exposed to the pathogen you have been diligently working on. Immediately, you begin taking the proper medications and ask your closest confidant and colleague to administer the available vaccine for treatment. Fortunately, you respond in time--the pathogen is under control, and you succeed in stopping a possible outbreak to people you could have been in contact with on the plane, your family, and countless other individuals they would have contact with there after.

The question at hand between you and your trusted colleague is whether or not to report the incident. If you do not report it, you could avoid severe punishment for waiting so long to report the accident, and not risk possible discharge of your position and discontinuation of your research. On the other hand, if you inform the university and other workers in the field of the incident, they may as a result benefit from the warnings by firming up their safety measures and practices, in order to prevent a similar situation in the future that might actually lead to an epidemic.

Do you report the incident and risk the university's credibility and trust with its hosting community, or do you keep the incident to yourself since you have already managed to take care of the illness?

Do you believe the dangers for an outbreak are higher or lower if other lab scientists have been in similar scenarios and tend to self-treat the disease and not go public?