CDC safely transports smallpox vials to high-containment facility

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday that the newly discovered vials of variola, commonly known as smallpox, were transported to the CDC's high-containment facility in Atlanta.

The National Institutes of Health notified the CDC's Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT) last week that employees discovered the vials in an unused portion of a storage room in an FDA laboratory on the Bethesda, Md.-based NIH campus. The vials appeared to date from the 1950s. Scientists discovered the vials while preparing for the laboratory's move to the FDA's main campus.

There is no evidence that the vials were breached and biosafety personnel have not identified any infectious disease exposure risk to lab workers or the public.

After the vials were discovered, they were immediately secured in a CDC-registered select agent containment laboratory in Bethesda before being transported to the Atlanta facility.

Tests confirmed the presence of variola virus DNA. Additional testing will determine if the material in the vials can grow in tissue culture. Following up to two weeks of testing, the samples will be destroyed.

Under the terms of an international agreement, there are two official WHO-designated repositories for smallpox: the CDC in Atlanta and the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (Vector) in Novosibirsk, Russia.

The WHO has been invited to participate in the CDC's investigation. DSAT is working with the FBI to investigate the history of how the samples were originally prepared and stored in the FDA laboratory.

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