Officials are trying to get to the bottom of how vaccine manufacturer Baxter International Inc. made "experimental virus material" based on a human flu strain, but contaminated it with the H5N1 avian flu virus and then distributed it to an Austrian company, according to an article on www.ProMED-mail.com.
That company, AVIR Green Hills Biotechnology, then disseminated the supposed H3N2 virus product to subcontractors in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Germany. Authorities in the four European countries are looking into the incident, and their efforts are being closely watched by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Though it appears none of the 36 or 37 people who were exposed to the contaminated product became infected, the incident is being described as "a serious error" on the part of Baxter, which is on the brink of securing a European license for an H5N1 vaccine. That vaccine is made at a different facility, in the Czech Republic.
"For this particular incident ... the horse did not get out (of the barn)," Dr. Angus Nicoll of the ECDC said from Stockholm. "But that doesn't mean that we … aren't taking it as seriously as you would any laboratory accident with dangerous pathogens, which you have here."