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J Infect Dis. 2012 Jul 1;206(1):63-8. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis302. Epub 2012 Apr 26.

Investigation of the first laboratory-acquired human cowpox virus infection in the United States.

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Poxvirus Team, Poxvirus and Rabies Branch, Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.



Cowpox virus is an Orthopoxvirus that can cause infections in humans and a variety of animals. Infections occur in Eurasia; infections in humans and animals have not been reported in the United States. This report describes the occurrence of the first known human case of laboratory-acquired cowpox virus infection in the United States and the ensuing investigation.


The patient and laboratory personnel were interviewed, and laboratory activities were reviewed. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and serologic assays were used to test the patient's specimens. PCR assays were used to test specimens obtained during the investigation.


A specimen from the patient's lesion tested positive for cowpox virus DNA. Genome sequencing revealed a recombinant region consistent with a strain of cowpox virus stored in the research laboratory's freezer. Cowpox virus contamination was detected in 6 additional laboratory stocks of viruses. Orthopoxvirus DNA was present in 3 of 20 environmental swabs taken from laboratory surfaces.


The handling of contaminated reagents or contact with contaminated surfaces was likely the mode of transmission. Delays in recognition and diagnosis of this infection in a laboratory researcher underscore the importance of a thorough patient history-including occupational information-and laboratory testing in facilitating a prompt investigation and application of control and remediation measures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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