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Scientist bitten by mouse in Taipei lab before testing positive for COVID

CECC confirms scientist bitten by lab mouse while experimenting on different COVID variants

Stock image of a lab mouse. (Pixabay photo)

Stock image of a lab mouse. (Pixabay photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A female researcher was bitten by a lab mouse while running experiments on COVID before testing positive for the virus on Thursday (Dec. 9).

During an emergency press conference on Thursday evening, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) confirmed that a female laboratory researcher in Taipei City tested positive for COVID. Chen identified her as a case No. 16,816, a woman in her 20s, who works at the Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center.

Chen said she was "exposed to the pathogen" in mid-November while working at the Academia Sinica's Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IBMS), a P3 (Biosafety Level-3) facility located in Taipei's Nangang District. However, he said that she did not experience symptoms early on.

On Nov. 26, she had a slight cough, and her coughing intensified on Dec. 4. She then had problems with her sense of smell and taste on Wednesday (Dec. 8), prompting her to undergo a PCR test and the result came back positive for COVID on Thursday.

CECC advisor Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), who had visited Academia Sinica prior to the press conference to obtain more details of the incident, said that the woman had recently been bitten by a mouse in the lab prior to testing positive for COVID. When asked by the media if she had been infected with COVID by the bite, Chang said, "I don't yet dare say that. Their internal investigation found that there was this kind of situation, but whether the infection was caused by this, we do not yet have a way to determine that, and further investigation is needed."

Chang stressed that the consensus from the first meeting was that a mouse bite had occurred. He pointed out that the lab not only contained samples of the Alpha variant, but other variants were present as well.

According to Chang, she has tested positive for COVID on PCR tests, with low Ct values of 15 and 23, indicating a new infection. Chen said that she had resigned from her position in early December, but the reason for her stepping down is still under investigation.

Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy head of the CECC’s medical response division, said that she had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, one on June 28 and one on July 26, making her a breakthrough case. She has also been confirmed to have contracted the Delta variant of the virus.