Philadelphia — Federal health authorities on Wednesday confirmed the discovery of some frozen vials labeled “Smallpox” in a freezer at a facility in Pennsylvania that conducts vaccine research.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vials were “incidentally discovered” by a laboratory worker while cleaning out the freezer.
“CDC, its administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the vials’ contents appear intact,” CDC spokesperson Belsie González said in an email.
“The laboratory worker who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask,” González wrote. “There are no indications that anyone was exposed to the small number frozen vials.”
Richard Ebright, Rutgers University’s chemical biology and chemistry professors, stated to The Philadelphia Inquirer: “For the general population there is no basis to be worried, even a small amount.”
He added that the discovery raised concerns regarding inadequate security, and not public safety.
The CDC did not confirm Pennsylvania where the vials were located.
Smallpox is an infectious disease that can be fatal and has been plagued by the variola virus for centuries. It killed almost a third of those it infected. Victims suffered from a severe fever and body ache, followed by blisters and spots that left survivors with pitted scars.
The United States was able in the 1970s to eliminate routine childhood vaccination against the disease. It also stated that the last natural outbreak in the country was in 1949. The World Health Assembly declared smallpox eliminated in 1980.
The World Health Organization has designated two sites where stocks of variola viruses are kept and used for research by the CDC in Atlanta and a Russian center.
According to the CDC Smallpox Research in the United States focuses primarily on the development of smallpox vaccines, drugs, diagnostic tests, and other tools to protect people from smallpox.
Officials said that a government scientist was cleaning out a Bethesda research center’s old storage room when he found six decades-old glass vials with freeze-dried smallpox specimens. The vials were then placed in a cardboard box. Officials called it the nation’s first discovery of smallpox unaccounted for.
Source: CBS News