San Francisco VA Medical Center researcher Richard Din passed away in late April at 25 (H/T Science/$ for full article). He left work on a Friday with flu-like symptoms and suffered a fatal heart attack within 24 hours. The investigation is ongoing, but Din did have the drug-resistant strain of meningitis he was working on in his bloodstream. It’s an incredibly tragic outcome, but his apparently research-related death is not as isolated of an incident as one might hope.
Yes, Mr. Din was working with a drug-resistant strain of bacteria, so his death is tragic, but not as completely surprising as other lab accidents that have claimed lives. Even so, there is an aspect of this story that suggests safety standards are not as seriously pursued in labs as much as they should, even when illness and death is a reasonable possibility.
Din was not vaccinated for meningitis, contrary to the recommendations (see adult section) of the Centers for Disease Control. Researchers at the center where Din worked will now be vaccinated against the strains they work on as a precaution. Again, I am aware that Din was working on a drug-resistant strain of the bacteria, but that seems insufficient reason to skip the vaccine.
It seems to this layperson that vaccine recommendations are much better developed and implemented for health care workers than for vaccine researchers. Hopefully Din’s passing will help push forward both research on meningitis and ways to better protect the people conducting that research.