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Calif. lab worker who died from meningitis identified

Updated May 3, 5:35 ET: Officials have released the name of the California lab researcher who died after handling a rare strain of bacteria, the Associated Press reports.

The coroner identified the man Thursday as 25-year-old Richard Din of San Francisco. 

Original story: A 25-year-old laboratory researcher has died after becoming infected with meningitis bacteria at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, health officials said Wednesday.

State and federal health officials are investigating the death, which apparently occurred April 28 after the researcher was exposed to the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, which can cause the disease.

"In general, this is an organism that merits rigorous safety precautions in a research laboratory," said Alison Patti, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The young man was employed by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, part of the Veterans Health Research Institute, which conducted research at the San Francisco site, said Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Dr. Harry Lampiris, interim site chief at the San Francisco VA, said that the man was a well-trained laboratory researcher who had been employed at the lab for about six months. He was working on a vaccine against the pathogen, Lampiris said, and was following required precautions.

"People in the lab didn't think there was any evidence that he was either sloppy or inadequately trained," said Lampiris, who added that workers in the lab have been handling meningitis bacteria for more than 20 years.

The young man began complaining of a headache and nausea on Friday. His symptoms worsened, he developed a full body rash and died on Saturday, about 17 hours after he became ill.

It wasn't clear how or when the man was exposed. It also wasn't clear whether workers were vaccinated against meningococcus, but Lampiris indicated that that might not have helped because the strain of the bacteria is resistant to existing vaccines.

Sixty medical workers who treated the man received antibiotics, as well as eight personal contacts of the man and six VA employees, Lampiris said. None of those contacts has reported symptoms, Lampiris said.

"Everyone else is fine," he added.

Such illnesses are rare, with only 16 cases of probable laboratory-acquired meningitis infections recorded worldwide between 1985 and 2001, including six Americans, according to CDC researchers.

Vaccines can prevent some kinds of meningitis and laboratory workers are instructed to take special precautions to avoid exposure. But in rare cases, laboratory workers have been sickened and even killed by the germs they're working with. 

Officials have not released the name or other details of the man who died.  

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