Source of outbreak at college labs is identified

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Source of outbreak at college labs is identified

The cause of a mysterious outbreak of pneumonia at Konkuk University, eastern Seoul, in October appears to be a type of bacteria that proliferates in animal feed used in labs at a building studying animal biotechnology.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC) said Tuesday it detected microbes that were likely to be Sacchearopolyspora rectivirgula (S.Rectivirgula), which are known to cause pneumoenteritis, or inflammation of the lungs and intestines in humans.

The microbes are usually detected in soil and plants. They originated in animal feed brought into the building and spread after the building’s exhaust systems malfunctioned.

“It is seen that there was a mass infection widely spread through dust carrying germs that proliferated in the labs after the ventilation system stopped,” said a quarantine authority at a briefing.

The first pneumonia patient at the university was reported on Oct. 19 and an additional 54 cases developed between October and November. All patients were students and workers on the fourth to seventh floors of the Animal Biotechnology building of Konkuk University.

KCDC shut down the building and did an epidemiological investigation for one and a half months.

The authorities said the germ was detected in feed, labs, and specimens from patients. They believed it first broke out in labs developing animal feeds on the fifth floor and spread to the other floors via a ventilation shaft that was not operating.

The KCDC said it will conclude decontaminating operations and a renovation of the building and reopen it before the next semester starts in March.

It will continue monitoring students and workers who used the building over the last six months.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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