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Smallpox vials from 1950s found in U.S. lab storage room

Published on Jul 9, 2014 4:58 AM

CHICAGO/ATLANTA (Reuters) - Stray vials of the deadly smallpox virus from the 1950s have been discovered at a federal lab near Washington, US health officials said on Tuesday, marking the second major lapse in a month in the way the United States handles deadly pathogens.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that workers discovered the vials in a cardboard box on July 1 while clearing out an old lab on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

The six glass vials contained freeze-dried smallpox virus and were sealed with melted glass. The vials appeared intact and there is no evidence that lab workers or the general public are at risk, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.

The mishandling of smallpox 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.

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