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A Mouse and a Needlestick

“A Mouse and a Needlestick” featured in Incidents, Accidents, and Near Misses in Laboratory Research, Volume 3, tells a real-life story about what can happen when safety procedures aren’t followed in animal care facilities. Read on to learn what happens:

I had just started a new job in an Animal Care Facility at an academic research lab in the heart of Kendall Square. I had three years of lab experience. I was confident in my new role and new procedures. I learned the hard way that I was overconfident.

A New Procedure

During my first month of on-the-job training, I learned how to do intraperitoneal (IP) injections into the body cavities of mice. We were working with a blank carrier and with a pretty potent chemical that basically stimulates the blood stem cells to evacuate the bone marrow. We did this to collect bone cells.

I’d done the IP Injection three or four times with no problems. So, when I came into the lab early one Thursday morning, I was confident I could do it again with no problems.

I planned on injecting ten mice. I had the whole thing set up exactly how I remembered it: five syringes of phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) as the blank carrier, and five syringes of the potent chemical. I used isoflurane anesthesia to knock out the mice so I could inject them.

The Mouse Fight

It was 7 o’clock in the morning. The ACF was busy with husbandry tasks but it wasn’t our day for cage changing. My boss and I were the only ones in the animal room that early. It’s a good time to get things done. Or so I thought.

I picked up a mouse and was just about to inject it when BANG! came out of nowhere. I flinched. I turned and saw two mice in a cage down the row fighting tooth and nail – something I had never seen before. It was quite a surprise. Then I got an even bigger surprise: when I flinched, I’d stuck myself with the syringe.

Panic Sets In

As I realized what had happened, I also couldn’t remember if the syringe I held had the PBS or the potent chemical. PBS is ok, but the potent chemical is bad. Panic started setting in.

It’s a PBS syringe. I’m certain it’s PBS. But what if it’s not? What if I mislabeled it? Oh man, am I going to get in trouble? What should I do? Should I tell anybody?

What I Did

I told my supervisor. She looked at everything and determined that luckily, it was the PBS, not the potent chemical (phew!). I didn’t need to go to Occupational Health. I was also lucky it wasn’t Lentivirus  – we had done injections the previous week with an oncogene-containing virus, trying to make tumor models. It would have been really bad if I stuck myself with that.

What I Would Do Differently

Looking back, one thing I would do differently is file an incident report right away. My supervisor told me not to worry too much about it so I put it off. Six months later our EHS team conducted an informal survey of our lab. They wanted to know if there was anything safety-related that wasn’t in our file. I felt like an idiot telling them about sticking myself with a needle, and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t filled out a report when it first happened.

Worse than that, it turned out that another scientist had a similar incident across campus one month after my incident. I still wonder if I might have been able to prevent that incident from happening if I had filled out my report earlier.

This incident was one of those fluke things that you don’t ever expect to happen. I never saw a fighting mouse before, and I never hope to see one (again). But I can tell you, anyhow, that I’d rather see than be one.

From the start, we will help ensure your ACF program is consistent with the Guide for the Care and Use of Lab Animals and provide resources, guidance, and advice to investigators, scientists, EHS staff, and ACF staff for biosafety, chemical safety, humane treatment of animals, and ACF operations.

For additional information about safety with animal care and use, visit our page here or email [email protected].

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