CHICAGO, July 8 (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday they found smallpox vials from the 1950s in a Food and Drug Administration storage building in Bethesda, Maryland, and transferred them to the CDC’s high-containment laboratory in Atlanta on July 7.
The CDC said there is no evidence that the vials have been breached, and biosafety officials have so far not found any evidence of risk to lab workers or the public.
The mishandling of smallpox, a highly infectious agent, follows the CDC’s recent mishap in which the agency believed it may have transferred live anthrax samples to a CDC lab that was not equipped to handle them, potentially exposing dozens of employees to the pathogen.
In the case of smallpox, the vials were discovered in an unused portion of a storage room of an unsecured FDA lab on the National Institutes of Health’s campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The NIH on July 1 reported the presence of the vials to the CDC’s Division of Select Agents and Toxins.
The CDC said scientists discovered the vials while preparing to move the lab to the FDA’s main campus. The vials appear to date to the 1950s.
The smallpox specimens have since been transferred to a CDC high-containment facility in Atlanta.
The CDC said it has notified the World Health Organization about the discovery. The United States and Russia are the two official repositories for smallpox designated by the WHO. (Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)