Monday, November 15, according to a local TV station, a laboratory worker at a facility in Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia, found several vials, five were labeled “smallpox” and 10 were labeled “vaccinia.”
The questionable vials were found in a freezer in a Merck facility yet it is not known which one as there are two Merck sites near Philadelphia and the precise information was not confirmed. The samples were immediately sent to the Department of Homeland Security, reports WPVI.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is “no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials.”
“The frozen vials labeled ‘Smallpox’ were incidentally discovered by a laboratory worker while cleaning out a freezer in a facility that conducts vaccine research in Pennsylvania. CDC, its Administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the vials’ contents appear intact,” the CDC said.
The CDC arrived at the lab on Wednesday to obtain the vials. As CDC reports, there was no leak of the vials’ insides, the lab worker was wearing a face mask and gloves.
“The freezer facility was immediately secured and staff followed standard protocols for notifying CDC of such a potential discovery. The vials were sent securely to CDC for testing on November 18 to determine what they contained. No one was exposed to contents of the vials,” said federal officials.
According to the further reports of the CDC did not contain the variola virus, the cause of smallpox. In fact, five vials labeled “smallpox” actually contained vaccinia, the virus used in the smallpox vaccine.
Smallpox is known scientifically as the variola virus. It is a dangerous and deadly virus, and there are only two labs worldwide that are authorized to store samples of it. One is in Russia and the other is at a CDC site in Atlanta. Back in 1980, the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had been globally eradicated following joint vaccination efforts across countries.
Prior to vaccination, the smallpox virus infected about 15 million people every year and resulted in the deaths of one-third of infected people. The last outbreak in the U.S. was in 1947.