News on Wellness

Old Smallpox Virals Found In Cardboard Box

Old virals of smallpox, apparently date to the 1950s, have been discovered by employees at a Food and Drug Administration laboratory on the NIH Bethesda campus, in an unused storage room.

The vials were immediately secured in a CDC-registered select agent containment laboratory in Bethesda to do some more testing. After the samples were transferred to the CDC’s laboratory, tests confirmed they contained smallpox DNA. When the tests are completed and samples prove viable, they will be destroyed.

According to the CDC, no evidence was found that any of the vials had been breached, nor had any of the lab workers been exposed to the virus.

The CDC said this is the first time in the U.S. that unaccounted-for smallpox has been discovered. At least one leading scientist raised the possibility that there are more such vials out there around the world.

CDC officials notified the WHO about the finding, and invited the agency to witness the destruction of the samples, which is a standard procedure when samples are found outside approved labs.

The smallpox virus is now known to exist only in scientific laboratories in the United States and Russia: the CDC’s secure BSL-4 lab in Atlanta and the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Novosibirsk, Russia. Both sites are supervised by the WHO.

The decision to eradicate small pox was made by the World Health Assembly of the WHO in 1957. The last known case of a person who has contracted small pox is that of Janet Parker, back in 1978. In the year 1980, WHO declared small pox to be completely eradicated, but health experts worry about potential risk associated with further exposure to the virus.

After the 2001 U.S. terror attacks, there is “heightened concern that the variola virus might be used as an agent of bioterrorism,” the CDC says on its website.

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