Canadian pathogen labs found to be struggling to keep track of their pathogens

A recent audit has shown that Canadian government labs handling samples of swine flu and other viruses and bacteria are struggling to keep track of their pathogens.

The audit, performed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, warns that the weak controls used at federal facilities could potentially allow pathogens to go missing or be used for non-scientific purposes.

The problem, the study found, stems from each lab's differing method of taking stock of its germs, with some using a mixture of manual and electronic recording systems that leave room for pathogens to go missing.

The National Microbiology Laboratory, which has tested hundreds of samples of the H1N1 flu virus this year, suffered just such a loss earlier this when 22 vials of biological material went missing.

Vials containing safe traces of the Ebola gene were allegedly stolen by a scientist in that loss, which occurred in January. Officials became aware of he missing vials in May when the former employee was arrested by U.S. authorities at the Manitoba-North Dakota border.

The vials, it was learned, went unnoticed as the lab's refrigerators and freezers are stocked with tens of thousands of such non-infectious material vials. High level pathogens, the lab's head said, are subject to a more rigorous inventory with workers who handle them kept under strict security.

Non-infectious materials, however, are not kept under such a tight security lid.

The Public Health Agency of Canada's audit has suggested that non-infectious materials be more rigorously tracked from delivery until they are transferred or destroyed. The agency also calls for a standard method of tracking and accounting for pathogens.