It’s not uncommon for laboratories to have dangerous things on hand, but they’re typically aware of the dangerous things they have on hand. That doesn’t seem to be the case for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who had vials of the smallpox virus lying around for decades without realizing it.
In a statement to the media today the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it has secured an undisclosed number of vials labeled “variola,” another name for smallpox. The vials were being kept in an unused portion of the lab and appear to be from as far back as the 1950s. Early tests confirm the presence of the variola virus DNA, but further testing is being done to see if the samples are viable and capable of growing in culture. Once those tests are complete the samples will be destroyed.
The World Health Organization has also been notified as per an international agreement, and the vials have been transported to the CDC facility in Atlanta, Georgia from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland where the FDA lab is housed.
Thankfully it appears that the smallpox virus was contained to the vials, and that there does not seem to be a risk of infection for lab workers or the public. That’s all good news, but seriously, let’s all be a little more careful with our vials of smallpox in the future, K?
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