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Aerosolized avian influenza virus by laboratory manipulations

Zhiping Li1, Jinsong Li3, Yandong Zhang4, Lin Li1, Limin Ma1, Dan Li2, Feng Gao1* and Zhiping Xia2*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine, Jilin University, Changchun, 130062, China

2 Key Laboratory of Jilin Province for Zoonosis Prevention and Control, Veterinary Research Institute, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Changchun, 130122, China

3 Insititute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Beijing, 100071, China

4 Department of Rheumatology, First Hospital, Jilin University, Changchun, 130021, China

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Virology Journal 2012, 9:146  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-146

Published: 6 August 2012



Avian H5N1 influenza viruses present a challenge in the laboratory environment, as they are difficult to collect from the air due to their small size and relatively low concentration. In an effort to generate effective methods of H5N1 air removal and ensure the safety of laboratory personnel, this study was designed to investigate the characteristics of aerosolized H5N1 produced by laboratory manipulations during research studies.


Normal laboratory procedures used to process the influenza virus were carried out independently and the amount of virus polluting the on-site atmosphere was measured. In particular, zootomy, grinding, centrifugation, pipetting, magnetic stirring, egg inoculation, and experimental zoogenetic infection were performed. In addition, common accidents associated with each process were simulated, including breaking glass containers, syringe injection of influenza virus solution, and rupturing of centrifuge tubes. A micro-cluster sampling ambient air pollution collection device was used to collect air samples. The collected viruses were tested for activity by measuring their ability to induce hemagglutination with chicken red blood cells and to propagate in chicken embryos after direct inoculation, the latter being detected by reverse-transcription PCR and HA test. The results showed that the air samples from the normal centrifugal group and the negative-control group were negative, while all other groups were positive for H5N1.


Our findings suggest that there are numerous sources of aerosols in laboratory operations involving H5N1. Thus, laboratory personnel should be aware of the exposure risk that accompanies routine procedures involved in H5N1 processing and take proactive measures to prevent accidental infection and decrease the risk of virus aerosol leakage beyond the laboratory.

H5N1; Aerosol; Laboratory-associated infections; Occupational and environmental safety