Samples of Smallpox Found in Old NIH Lab

Samples of Smallpox Found in Old NIH Lab

Smallpox Virus, TEM – BV2384

An old laboratory on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, MD., was in the process of being cleaned out in preparation for moving the lab to the main campus.  During that time, scientists uncovered six vials of the smallpox virus in a storage room, prompting an immediate response by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to transport the frozen samples to a secure facility.  Once there, the CDC will test the virus to see if it is still viable before destroying it.  There was no evidence of the samples being breached or lab workers being exposed to infection.

Smallpox is caused by the airborne variola virus, and results in flu-like symptoms which eventually develop into lesions appearing on the skin, which rapidly enlarge and rupture.  It is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300-500 million deaths in the 20th century, until a vaccine was discovered and the disease eradicated in 1977.  Since then, only two facilities in the world are allowed to keep samples of the virus under tight security.

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