Illegal Smallpox Turns Up in Maryland Lab

It may have been there since the 1950s
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2014 3:22 PM CDT
This 1975 electronmicrograph from the Centers for Disease Control shows the smallpox virus.   (AP Photo/CDC, File)

(Newser) – Smallpox is a terrifying pathogen that by international agreement can be studied only at two labs in the world, one in the US and one in Russia. So it's just a wee bit disconcerting that another lab in Maryland just realized it's had some lying around, apparently for decades. Scientists found six freeze-dried vials of variola, the virus that causes the most severe form of smallpox, while preparing the lab's storage room for an impending move, ABC News reports. They were sitting on their sides in cardboard boxes packed with cotton balls.

"At the end of the day, we don’t know why [the vials] showed up," a CDC spokesperson said. The boxes may date back to the 1950s. The Bethesda lab, which has been operated by the FDA since 1972, isn't equipped to handle the pathogen. The vials have been shipped to the CDC's Atlanta center, which has confirmed via DNA testing that they do indeed contain variola, reports the Washington Post. The CDC says there's no evidence anyone has been exposed, and no public health risk. The vials will be tested to see whether the disease is still active, and then destroyed. (Read more smallpox stories.)

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