Animal use in neuroscience and behavioral research usually does not involve the introduction of physical, chemical, or exogenous biologic hazards. However, any animal use involves the potential for an array of suble physical, chemical, and protocol-related hazards and occasional zoonotic disease risks (NRC, 1997). For example, some research programs involve hazards such as the use of the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin or 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6 tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) in basal ganglia research.
Laboratory strains of mice and rats are generally free of infectious agents that pose risks to humans. However, other animals used in neuroscience and behavioral research pose zoonotic risks. Examples of specific risks include those posed by wild mammals (hantavirus, rabies, tularemia, and plague), cats (toxoplasmosis and cat-scratch fever), and nonhuman primates (SIV, B virus, shigella, and tuberculosis) (NRC, 1997).
The key to successful handling of experimental hazards is a systematic process for hazard identification during animal-use protocol development and institutional review. Once hazards are identified, risk management should involve the appropriate safety specialists (NRC, 1997).
One class of hazards associated with neuroscience research that merits special attention is the serious and well-recognized zoonotic diseases associated with nonhuman primates. The most problematic are the viral diseases, notably that caused by the macaque monkey’s B virus (also known as Cercopithecine herpesvirus 1). The importance of using awake, behaving rhesus macaques for intensive neurologic study places laboratory personnel at special risk for B virus infection and demands the highest standards of procedural compliance with the use of personal protective equipment, good animal-handling practices, availability of decontaminating equipment, and management of human exposure (Cohen et al., 2002; Holmes et al., 1995; NRC, 2003a). It is essential that laboratories using macaques be well supported by an institutional occupational health and safety program that focuses on the risks of B-virus prevention and control. The basic elements of such a program include procedures and training in dealing with potential exposures, the required use of protective equipment, and access to medical professionals who are knowledgeable about B virus (AAALAC, 2002; CDC-NIH, 1999). Compliance with institutional occupational health and safety requirements should be a prerequisite for IACUC approval of an animal-use protocol and should be evaluated carefully by the IACUC during its semiannual inspections. All macaques, even those from sources thought to be free of B virus and those that repeatedly test serologically negative to B virus, should be presumed to be naturally infected with the virus and handled with appropriate precautions (AAALAC, 2002; NRC, 1997, 2003a).