Hazard categories of pathogens

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In the UK, the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (official web-site) have classified the hazards associated with human pathogens into 4 groups, of increasing risk. The classification was first published in 1984 as part of the ACDP's guidance on containment of pathogens and was revised in 1994 to fit with European rules. It is included as part of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.[1]

The classification is relevant to handling of specimens in in both clinical and research laboratories.

The hazard groupings are also used in risk assessment of autopsy work, but the mortuary setting is slightly different from the laboratory, so each case should be considered individually, rather than on a blanket hazard group classification. For instance, histoplasmosis is under group 3, but the form found at autopsy is of low infectivity. In contrast, a case of PVL MRSA, although classed as group 2, may pose a higher risk to the pathologist.

A list of pathogens is maintained by the Health and Safety Executive.[2]


Category 1

An organism that is most unlikely to cause human disease.

Category 2

An organism that may cause human disease and which may be a hazard to laboratory workers but is unlikely to spread to the community.

Category 3

An organism that may cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard. It may present a risk of spread to the community. Prophylaxis or treatment is usually available.

Category 4

An organism that may cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard. It may present a high risk of spread to the community and there is usually no prophylaxis or treatment. This includes viral haemorrhagic fevers.

The are strict rules on the handling, containment and disposal of group 4 pathogens.


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