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article imageVials of smallpox found in store room

By Tim Sandle     Jul 11, 2014 in Science
Bethesda - Government workers cleaning out an old storage room at a research center near Washington have found decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.
Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. Smallpox localized in small blood vessels of the skin and in the mouth and throat. In the skin it resulted in a characteristic "pox" rash and, later, raised fluid-filled blisters. The WHO certified the eradication of smallpox in 1979. Following eradication, all known stocks of smallpox were destroyed or 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).
It seems that one stock was forgotten about, according to NBC News. The smallpox virus samples were found in a building at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration since 1972.
The workers undertaking the clear-out found six glass vials of freeze-dried virus. The vials were intact and sealed with melted glass. However, because the vials were not held in cold storage, there is a possibility that the virus is dead. However, there remains a probability that the virus remains active and the vials were immediately handed over to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for safekeeping. After initial testing, the vials will be destroyed. The destruction will be witnessed by the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, the CDC's Division of Select Agents and Toxins and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating how the smallpox vials were originally prepared and stored in Bethesda.
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