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Smallpox Vials Found in Storage Area

Update Date: Jul 09, 2014 09:28 AM EDT

According to a federal scientist who was in charge of clearing out a storage room inside a research center, there were six sealed smallpox vials sitting in a cardboard box. So far, the researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not know if the virus inside the vials is dead or alive.

"We don't yet know if it's live and infectious," said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC center that handles highly dangerous infectious agents, reported by Philly.

Even though the vials were all intact, health officials have stated that the finding made last week was disturbing. Smallpox is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal. There is no cure for the disease; however, due to vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated from the global world since 1980. Prior to this discovery, world health officials believed that the only known samples were tucked away safely in Atlanta, GA and in Russia.

The CDC reported that the freeze-dried smallpox samples were found in a building at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) located in Bethesda, MD. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used this building since 1972. The storage room was located in between two laboratories. Based on the labeling on the vials, the researchers believe that the vials date back to the 1950s. However, they could not determine how long the vials have been sitting in the building, which was opened in the 1960s.

"Although an investigation is ongoing, it is likely that an investigator involved in smallpox research, prior to the time that smallpox was eliminated, may have left the boxes in a cold storage area," FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez said to the Washington Post. "These were then only discovered as part of the inventory undertaken in preparation for the move of the FDA laboratories from the NIH campus in Bethesda to the consolidated FDA campus in Silver Spring."

The vials were safely and securely transferred to the CDC's Atlanta location where researchers are testing the virus. After the tests are finished, the samples will be properly destroyed. No one who has come into contact with the virus has been infected. The CDC and the FDA are investigating the case.

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