PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On Wednesday, federal health officials confirmed the discovery of some frozen vials labelled “Smallpox” in a freezer at a vaccine research facility in Pennsylvania.
The vials were “inadvertently discovered” by a laboratory worker cleaning out the freezer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”The CDC, its administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter, and the contents of the vials appear to be intact,” said CDC spokesperson Belsie González in an email.
González wrote, “The laboratory worker who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask.” “No one appears to have been exposed to the small number of frozen vials.”The CDC would not say where the vials were discovered in Pennsylvania.Smallpox is a deadly, infectious disease caused by the variola virus that has plagued the world for centuries, killing nearly one-third of those infected. Victims experienced scorching fever and body aches, followed by spots and blisters that left survivors with pitted scars.The United States was able to end routine childhood vaccination against the disease by the early 1970s, with the country’s last natural outbreak occurring in 1949. Smallpox was declared eradicated by the World Health Assembly in 1980.The World Health Organization has designated two sites where stocks of variola virus are stored and used for research: the CDC facility in Atlanta and a centre in Russia.According to the CDC, smallpox research in the United States is focused on the development of vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tests to protect people from smallpox in the event that it is used as a bioterrorism agent.
Officials reported in July 2014 that a government scientist cleaning out an old storage room at a Bethesda, Maryland, research centre discovered six decades-old glass vials containing freeze-dried smallpox samples packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.
It was the country’s first discovery of unaccounted-for smallpox, according to officials.
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