The discovery this month of six vials of smallpox at a National Institutes of Health research laboratory offered an alarming reminder that the system of securing batches of harmful diseases is not foolproof. Late last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said tests showed that two of the vials contained live virus. All of the samples are to be destroyed.
The agency also announced it had closed two CDC research labs in Atlanta because of staff members’ mishandling of anthrax samples and flu strains. As many as 75 CDC employees may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria.
The CDC said it was temporarily stopping transfers of samples from high-level biosafety labs and beefing up lab safety procedures. Beyond that response, employees of private and government labs who once worked on biohazards should revisit old storage spaces for other forgotten batches that could cause “hot zones” when and where we least expect them.