Vials from the 1950s containing the most severe form of smallpox were found recently in an unused storage room in a Food and Drug Administration lab in Maryland, but are now secure in Atlanta.
On July 1, the National Institutes of Health notified Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that employees unearthed the vials in storage on the NIH Bethesda, MD, campus. The scientists discovered the vials while preparing for the lab’s move to the FDA’s main campus, according to a CDC statement.
Authorities said there was no indication that anyone had been exposed to smallpox, and they said no risk to workers or the public has been found from the decades-old vials, reports The Washington Post. The last smallpox case in the United States occurred in 1949.
Scientists at the CDC confirmed Monday that the vials contained smallpox. Additional tests over the next two weeks will determine if the smallpox is able to grow in tissue cultures, then the samples will be destroyed, CDC authorities said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the CDC’s Division of Select Agents and Toxins, is investigating how the samples were prepared and stored.
Smallpox can only be kept in two locations in the world, says The Post, both of them inspected by the World Health Organization. One repository is the CDC in Atlanta and the other is the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Novosibirsk, Russia.
Last month, CDC officials came under scrutiny when about 75 workers were notified they might have been accidentally exposed to anthrax bacteria because of a safety problem in a lab, Patch earlier reported. Agency officials said the staff members are being monitored or given antibiotics as a precaution against exposure to the disease-causing bacteria.