Originally created 12/20/97

Scientists order eye protection



ATLANTA -- The Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center has ordered its employees to use protective eye wear after one of its researchers died of herpes B virus she contracted through her eye.

In what may be the first such transmission, Elizabeth R. Griffin, 22, was splashed in the eye with an unknown substance while moving a monkey cage at the primate center. Ten days later, her eye was inflamed. She died four weeks later on Dec. 10.

"We want to be absolutely sure that this one-in-a-million chance of transmission does not happen again," Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the primate center, said Thursday.

Ms. Griffin was wearing gloves, a lab coat and a face mask -- what Yerkes protocol said was appropriate protection for the task -- but did not wear goggles, Dr. Insel said.

Yerkes protocol previously called for employees to wear goggles only when there was a chance that bodily fluids containing the virus -- saliva and sometimes urine -- might be swept up into the air, such as when they clean a cage. Moving an animal in a mesh-covered cage wasn't considered to involve such a risk.

Before her death, the only known transmissions of the virus from monkeys to humans occurred from a bite or scratch.

"It's a tragic way to learn," said Yerkes spokeswoman Kate Egan.

While some experts suspected it could be just as deadly through a mucous membrane contact none of the 40 previous worldwide cases occurred this way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.