Lost Small Pox Vials and Anthrax Mishaps

 Will small pox and anthrax biosafety concerns undermine vital research?

Will small pox and anthrax biosafety concerns undermine vital research?

Last week the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 6 small pox vials had been discovered on the 1st of July during the clearing out of an old laboratory at the Nationality Institute of Health’s (NIH) Bethesda campus, Maryland.

The six glass vials, filled with freeze-dried small pox virus and sealed with melted glass, are still intact and the CDC have stated that there is not evidence to suggest lab workers or the public are at any risk. The CDC are currently testing the samples to see if they had the potential to make a person sick, after which they will be destroyed.

This comes just after the CDC admitted that they had sent live anthrax samples to a lab not able to safely store them. The resulting investigation from the US Department of Agriculture’s animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) found numerous violations relating to the storage of anthrax: ill equipped labs, samples stored in unlocked fridges in hallways, missing samples, and storage equipment not up to scratch.

Understandably each of these cases has raised concerns about both biosafety, and the possibility of bio-terrorism. However unlikely the use of small pox or anthrax a mass weapon of terrorism, CDC officials must be feeling the heat from the public sector.

After Yoshihiro Kawaoka, from the University of Wisconsin, developed a deadly strain of avian flu that resembled that of the 1918 Spanish flu, the mainstream press were awash with sensationalist stories about the threat posed by the creation of this mutant flu strain. Will these latest failures add fuel to the fire?

Of course research like as Dr Kawaoka’s is necessary to progress of our understanding of flu viruses. But with these latest bio-safety failures from the CDC, growing concern from government regulators, and no small amount of public criticism, could we see a drop in funding for projects looking into dangerous pathogens and deadly viruses?

Read the CDC statement regarding the small pox vials.
Get Reuters take on the small pox find.
Read about Dr Kawaoka’s research and the press reaction here.

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