Forgotten 1950s cardboard box found contains smallpox virus

Original story from news.com.au July 9, 2014

US government workers cleaning out an old storage room at a research centre near Washington made a startling discovery last week — decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.

The six glass vials of freeze-dried virus were intact and sealed with melted glass, and the virus might have been dead, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last night.

Still, the find was disturbing because for decades after the lethal disease was declared eradicated in 1980, world health authorities believed the only samples of smallpox left were safely stored in super-secure laboratories in Atlanta and in Russia.

Officials said this is the first time in the US that unaccounted-for smallpox has been discovered.

It was the second recent incident in which a government health agency appeared to have mishandled a highly dangerous germ. Last month, a laboratory safety lapse at the CDC in Atlanta led the agency to give scores of employees antibiotics as a precaution against anthrax.

The smallpox virus samples were found in a building at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration since 1972, according to the CDC.

Officials said the vials may have been stored there since the 1950s — no records were found that said exactly when they were placed there.

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