Scientists Discover Vials Of Deadly Smallpox That Have Been Sitting In A Storage Room For Decades

Looks like someone has been doing a pretty crappy job of spring cleaning.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control just found old vials of smallpox in an unsecured Maryland laboratory belonging to the Food and Drug Administration. While the deadly virus — estimated to have killed over 400 million people — was eradicated in 1980 thanks to worldwide vaccination programs, the CDC believes the newly discovered samples date back to the ’50s. Miraculously, scientists don’t believe anyone in the lab has been exposed to the disease.

Scientists made the discovery when they were preparing to move a lab from the Food and Drug Administration’s Bethesda, Maryland, campus to a different location. The laboratory had been used by the NIH but was transferred to the FDA in 1972. The vials were located in an unused part of a storeroom.

When the scientists found the vials, they immediately put them in a containment lab and on July 1 notified the branch of the government that deals with toxic substances, called the Division of Select Agents and Toxins.

The CDC says there is no evidence that any of the vials was breached, nor were any of the lab workers exposed to the virus.

On Monday, law enforcement agencies transferred the vials to the CDC’s high-containment facility in Atlanta. Testing confirmed that there was variola virus DNA in the vials. Scientists will do some more testing to see if it could grow in tissue culture. Once the tests are done, the CDC will destroy the samples.

According to the FBI, an investigation’s been launched into how such dangerous materials could have been mishandled for so long.


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