Forgotten Vials of Smallpox Found in Storage Room

We’ve been telling you for years that the only smallpox left in the world were two laboratory repositories, one in Russia and the other at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. We’ve even discussed the possibility of destroying those two stashes. But last week, a scientist cleaning out a room in Washington stumbled upon a cardboard box containing six glass vials of variola virus (smallpox) samples that had been there who-knows-how long.

The freeze-dried smallpox samples were found in a building at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration since 1972, according to the CDC.

The scientist was cleaning out a cold room between two laboratories on July 1 when he made the discovery, FDA officials said.

Officials said labeling indicated the smallpox had been put in the vials in the 1950s. But they said it's not clear how long the vials had been in the building, which did not open until the 1960s.

No one has been infected, and no smallpox contamination was found in the building.

Officials said this was the first time smallpox has been found in the U.S. that wasn’t documented and accounted for. Scientists from the CDC don’t know yet whether the smallpox virus is dead or alive. The disease was declared eradicated in 1980. 

(Image credit: PhD Dre)


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If I might add a (usually reviled) personal note; My father created nerve gas for The Army. I burned every bit of his private stash of vials both after the divorce and after he died. Never any idea what they contained.

As a race, we still need to be careful.
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