A British scientist struck down with meningococcal disease has had both legs, her left hand, and some fingers on her right hand amputated.


Jeannette Adu-Bobie is recovering in Wellington Hospital after surgery on Sunday .


Ms Adu-Bobie became critically ill with the disease 2-1/2 weeks ago.


She remains in intensive care, but is awake and talking, Wellington Hospital said today.


She is expected to be transferred to Hutt Hospital, Lower Hutt, soon for plastic surgery.


Ms Adu-Bobie, an experienced researcher in her 30s, had been working for three weeks at Porirua's Environmental Science and Research (ESR), in an antibody testing laboratory that handles meningococcal bacteria.


A review of the incident has found no evidence of an accident at the lab.


But a former ESR employee who also contracted meningococcal disease said working in a laboratory with live bacteria carries more risk of infection.


Sharron Bowers, 37, had been working with meningococcal bacteria samples in another lab at ESR's Porirua science centre when she was hospitalised with meningococcal meningitis in 1994.


She spent nine days in hospital before recovering.


It was not confirmed she contracted the disease from the lab, but Ms Bowers believes it was "the most likely source of infection".


She had been working with bacteria on an open bench in the lab, instead of in the biosafety cabinets which must now be used. The cabinets were not adequately set up for the task then and she asked permission to work outside them, she said.


Ms Bowers, who now works in public health research, believes Ms Adu-Bobie could have been infected in the lab, even if she had been very careful and with ESR providing every safety measure available.


"I think that the biosafety cabinets offer the best possible chance of avoiding infection, but, realistically, there is still a higher risk in a lab. You might have a tiny little slip and not even notice that it's happened.


"I'm just a little bit cynical about the assertion that it was more likely that she got it in the community. ESR would understandably err on the side of protecting the reputation of both the researcher and the organisation."


An American study in 2002 found lab scientists were 65 times more likely to contract meningococcal disease than the general population of adults aged 30 to 59.


ESR chief executive John Hay declined to comment on Ms Bowers' case or on the risks of infection for lab scientists.


- NZPA