Vials of one of the world’s most deadly viruses have been sitting in an unsecured storage room in a research building for decades.
Variola…otherwise known as the virus that causes smallpox.
Scientists who were preparing to move their laboratory from the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, to the FDA’s main campus made the discovery.
They found six freeze-dried vials labeled as containing variola, and 10 other vials with unclear labeling information in a cold storage room that is owned by the Food and Drug Administration on the NIH’s Bethesda campus.
That research building was not equipped or approved to store deadly pathogens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Steven Monroe directs the CDC’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology. He told ABC News that out of the 16 found vials, only the six labeled as variola tested positive for variola DNA, and that the contents of the vials are now being tested in cell culture to determine if any of the virus samples are still infectious. Once that process is complete, they will be destroyed, he said.
“It’s pretty hardy as viruses go, particularly in the freeze-dried state,” Monroe said of the variola virus. “That could certainly prolong viability.”
How long the vials had been in the storage room, which is kept at 5 degrees Celsius, is unclear. But the boxes holding them may date back to the 1950s, according to CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.
Until now, the only two known stored vials of the smallpox virus were kept at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta and at the VECTOR Institute in Russia. Because the virus is considered a bioterrorism threat, it is only permitted in those two labs.
The newly discovered vials violate an international agreement reached in 1979 aimed at keeping the virus eradicated while allowing some scientists to continue studying it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the CDC’s Division of Select Agents and Toxins are investigating how these samples came to be stored in the FDA lab.
Monroe said no other smallpox vials had turned up unexpectedly since the 1979 agreement – until now.
“We can’t say with 100 percent certainty there are no other vials like this,” he said.
The storage room does not have its own security, but an NIH spokesman has said the building itself has guards on duty at all times.
The CDC was notified of the discovery on July 1, and a three-person team was sent via a government plane to retrieve the vials for transport and testing.
From the AP:
Smallpox was one of the most lethal diseases in history. For centuries, it killed about one-third of the people it infected, including Queen Mary II of England, and left most survivors with deep scars on their faces from the pus-filled lesions.The last known case was in Britain in 1978, when a university photographer who worked above a lab handling smallpox died after being accidentally exposed to it from the ventilation system.
The US ended routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, but it is interesting to note that the country has enough of the vaccine stockpiled “to vaccinate everyone in the United States in the event of a smallpox emergency” according to the CDC.
That in itself is scary, and makes one wonder WHY the US keeps such a stockpile. Sure, smallpox could be used in a bioterrorism attack – that is nothing new. But prior to this announcement, that seemed unlikely. This development makes one wonder what may really be going on here.
And let’s back up for a minute and address a point that may be even more important – if only six of the vials contain variola, then what do the other ten vials contain?
Why isn’t that being discussed beyond a brief mention in all of the related mainstream media coverage?
The vials were found on July 1. The information about the vials was just released to the public today – seven days later. But why?
Government agencies like the FDA and NIH were
supposedly put in place to protect public health.
The next time you hear the phrase “FDA approved” remember that they can’t even remember where they put their smallpox viruses.
Should we really trust them with decisions about our health?
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Contributed by Lisa Egan of Ready Nutrition.