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article imageDestruction of secret smallpox vials delayed

By Tim Sandle     Nov 1, 2014 in Science
Bethesda - The destruction of vials of smallpox - one of the world's deadliest diseases - found hidden on U.S. soil has been delayed. The reason? Because the World Health Organization (WHO) has been too busy with Ebola.
This summer Digital Journal reported that Government workers cleaning out an old storage room at a research center near Washington found decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box. The smallpox virus samples were found in a building that once belonged to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is thought that the NIH left the vials behind. In 1972, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved in, unaware that vials of the deadly live virus were hidden away. The building is located in Bethesda, Maryland.
Smallpox is a highly infectious disease caused by one of two virus variants: Variola major and Variola minor. Smallpox can become localized in small blood vessels of the skin and in the mouth and throat. In the skin it results in a characteristic "pox" rash appearing and, later, raised fluid-filled blisters.
Following the official eradication of smallpox in 1979 all known stocks of smallpox were destroyed, except for two lots. These were transferred to one of two WHO reference laboratories (CDC in Atlanta and one at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Novosibirsk, Russia). No other stocks were thought to exist until the accidental discovery in 2014.
On discovery, the vials were passed over to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for safekeeping and, following identity testing, the vials were earmarked for destruction using super-heat (through an industrial autoclave). However, some five months on the vials remain in a secure freezer awaiting the order to destroy them.
The reason for the delay is because the WHO has to, by international law, witness the destruction of such pathogens. All key WHO officials have been too preoccupied with the Ebola outbreak to have the time to attend the thirty minutes or so needed to destroy the smallpox virus samples. As the science site Nature reports, the vials, which are “marked for death by autoclave . . . linger in a high-security freezer.”
More about Smallpox, Virus, autoclave, Who, Fda
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