The Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak in 1979 was caused by a lab worker who failed to replace a clogged air filter at a Soviet biological weapons facility. This resulted in the largest outbreak of inhalation anthrax on record, killing at least 64 people.
Today, the concern about lab leaks has shifted from state-sponsored bioweapons programs to gain-of-function research, where scientists engineer superbugs with enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs).
While some argue that this research could help prepare us for future pandemics, others believe that the risks outweigh the benefits. Lab accidents can happen due to human error, such as accidental exposure to Ebola-contaminated needles or forgotten samples of smallpox, and even with safety protocols in place, there is still room for mistakes.
Experts suggest creating an international database of leaks and near-misses to minimize human errors, and a robust early warning system to protect us from any disease outbreak, whether it comes from a lab leak or a natural spillover. Global collaboration and transparency are necessary to overcome the hurdles of implementing these changes to prevent pandemics.