Six vials of deadly smallpox virus have been discovered in a place they shouldn’t have been — in an unused corner of a storage room at a Food and Drug Administration laboratory in Maryland, federal health officials said.
This is the second lab lapse discovered in a month at federal facilities; though these vials have been there for years. In June, more than 80 employees at a Centers for Disease Control laboratory were exposed to airborne anthrax bacteria in an embarrassing blunder.
According to the CDC, the vials labeled variola, otherwise known as smallpox, were discovered on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda of Health in Bethesda by employees who were preparing for an upcoming move.The staff immediately notified the CDC’s Divison of Select Agents and Toxins, or DSAT.
It’s presumed that the virus samples may have been in the storage unit since the laboratory was transferred from NIH to FDA in 1972, along with the responsibility for regulating biologic products. They appear to date from the 1950’s, officials said.
Smallpox was responsible for between 300 million and 500 million deaths in the 20th century. The last case of smallpox in the U.S. occurred in 1949; the last naturally occurring case in the world occurred in Somalia in 1977, the CDC said.