Smallpox vials found at Merck lab were incorrectly labeled and did not actually contain the deadly virus | MCU Times

Smallpox vials found at Merck lab were incorrectly labeled and did not actually contain the deadly virus

Vials labeled ‘smallpox’, discovered in a freezer in a Philadelphia laboratory, contain no trace of the deadly virus, federal health officials reveal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that tests showed the vials contained ‘vaccinia, the virus used in the smallpox vaccine’ and not the variola virus that causes smallpox.

The vials ‘were accidentally spotted by a lab worker’ wearing gloves and a face mask while cleaning the freezer on Monday night.

There were 15 vials in total – five of which were labeled ‘smallpox’ and the other 10 labeled ‘vaccinia’.

Smallpox was eradicated in 1980 with a successful mass vaccination campaign, after it killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone.

Samples of the deadly virus are supposed to be stored in only two laboratories: the CDC headquarters in Atlanta and the Vector Institute in Koltsovo, Russia.

The CDC says vials discovered in a Merck laboratory in Philadelphia were incorrectly labeled 'smallpox'.  Pictured: A bottle of the smallpox vaccine in 2003

The CDC says vials discovered in a Merck laboratory in Philadelphia were incorrectly labeled ‘smallpox’. Pictured: A bottle of the smallpox vaccine in 2003

Federal officials say the vials contain 'vaccinia, the virus used in the smallpox vaccine' and not the variola virus, which causes smallpox.  Pictured: CDC headquarters

Federal officials say the vials contain ‘vaccinia, the virus used in the smallpox vaccine’ and not the variola virus, which causes smallpox. Pictured: CDC headquarters

The discovery was allegedly made at Merck's Upper Gwenydd plant outside Philadelphia

The discovery was allegedly made at Merck’s Upper Gwenydd plant outside Philadelphia

Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, told the New York Times that the vials were found at a Merck plant in Montgomery County.

It was not clear why the vials were in the freezer.

The CDC said it was ‘in close contact with state and local health officials, law enforcement and the World Health Organization’ about the findings.

The finding was first reported by Yahoo News, which received a copy of a warning sent to the Department of Homeland Security labeled ‘For official use only’.

What are smallpox and how do they spread?

Copper is a serious, life-threatening disease caused by the variola virus.

A person may not look or feel sick for 7 to 14 days after exposure, but first Symptoms include high fever, headache, back pain and vomiting.

About a third of people who get the disease die.

After the first symptoms, a rash appears throughout the body. The person is most contagious at this stage.

Rash develops in the tongue, mouth and throat. They then spread to the face and arms, torso and legs.

Inflatable buds, also called pustules, form and begin to crust over and fall off over a period of about 10 days.

It was mostly spread by prolonged face to face due to respiratory particles. The virus was also spread by sharing sheets, towels and clothes.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

After they were discovered, the vials were secured immediately and the plant was put on a barrier that was lifted Wednesday night.

“Merck is in the process of figuring out why it was there,” the source told NBC10 on Wednesday

Merck did not immediately respond to a request for comment from DailyMail.com.

“There is no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials,” a CDC spokesman told Yahoo.

‘The frozen vials labeled’ Smalpox ‘were accidentally discovered by a laboratory worker while cleaning a freezer at a plant conducting vaccine research in Pennsylvania.’

The discovery took place at the Merck Upper Gwynedd facility in North Wales, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, according to the WCAU.

The CDC, its administrative partners and law enforcement agencies are investigating the case and the contents of the vial appear to be intact. The lab employee who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask. We will provide further details when available, the spokesman said.

The incident is likely to raise questions about what to do with the world’s smallpox samples, which are only stored in two laboratories around the world.

Smallpox is an infection caused by the variola virus. Patients develop a fever and a characteristic, progressive skin rash, according to the CDC.

Most Americans are not vaccinated against the disease, and those who are are likely to have declining immunity, which means an outbreak can have devastating consequences.

The vaccine leaves a lesion the size of a crown that gradually forms a scab and leaves a scar, the CDC said. The lesion is contagious before the scab forms and those who get it must protect the vaccination site from other parts of the body and other people.

The FBI and CDC are investigating Tuesday's findings.  Smallpox is thought to be stored in only two laboratories in the world: the CDC in Atlanta and a state-owned laboratory in Russia.

The FBI and CDC are investigating Tuesday’s findings. Smallpox is thought to be stored in only two laboratories in the world: the CDC in Atlanta and a state-owned laboratory in Russia.

In 2014, a government researcher who cleaned out an old storage room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland – just outside Washington, DC – found six decades-old vials containing freeze-dried cups, according to the Washington Post.

The samples were packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box. At that time, it was the first such discovery in the country.

In 2019, an explosion in the state-owned Russian laboratory with some of the samples sent a worker to the hospital, even though the World Health Organization said the explosion did not take place near the warehouses, according to NPR.

Earlier this month, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said the United States and Britain should invest ‘minds of billions’ in virus research, including how to possibly prevent smallpox attacks from being triggered in places like airports, according to Yahoo News.

“So along with the climate message and the ongoing fight against disease among the poor, pandemic preparedness is something I want to talk a lot about,” he said in an interview with British health policy official Jeremy Hunt.

How was the deadly virus that killed about 300 million people in the 20th century finally eradicated?

The disease causes puffy buds or pustules that cover the body.  Above an unidentified man with cups on an undated picture

The disease causes puffy buds or pustules that cover the body. Above an unidentified man with cups on an undated picture

The origin of smallpox is unknown, but the earliest written description of a similar virus appeared in China in the 4th century.

It has typically worked in eruptions and was brought to North America by European settlers in the 17th century.

About a third of the infected patients died. Those who survived were sometimes left with various scars or even blind.

The ‘basis for vaccination’ began in 1796, when the English physician Edward Jenner noted that milkmaids who had been given smallpox were also protected against smallpox, according to the CDC.

In the 19th century, the virus used to make the smallpox vaccine changed from smallpox to vaccinia virus. (Five of the fifteen vials found in Philadelphia on Tuesday were labeled ‘vaccinia’).

Before the vaccine, variolation was a common method of protection against the virus. People who had never had smallpox took material from pustules from infected people and scratched it in the arm or inhaled it through the nose to develop immunity.

Smallpox killed about 300 million people in the 20th century before being exterminated by a mass vaccination campaign.  Above, a boy was vaccinated in New York in 1938

Smallpox killed about 300 million people in the 20th century before being exterminated by a mass vaccination campaign. Above, a boy was vaccinated in New York in 1938

In 1948, the virus infected about 50 million people a year across the globe, according to the WHO.

Experts estimate that the virus killed about 300 million people in the 20th century.

Soviet scientist Viktor Zhdanov proposed a four-year global vaccination campaign that began in 1959, and the campaign received a global boost aided by US funds in 1966 and 1967 with the Intensified Eradication Program.

“Laboratories in many countries where smallpox occurred regularly were able to produce more freeze-dried vaccine of higher quality,” the CDC notes.

‘Other factors that played an important role in the success of the intensified effort included the development of the two-part needle, the establishment of a case monitoring system and mass vaccination campaigns.’

The last known naturally occurring case occurred in 1977 in Somalia. The last natural outbreak in the United States was in 1949.

In 1980, the WHO declared the disease extinct.

At this point, most Americans are not vaccinated against the disease, and those who are are likely to have declining immunity, according to Yahoo News.

Sources: World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control

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