CDC: Vials labeled “smallpox” found at US Vaccine Research Institute

Several bottles labeled “smallpox” have been found at a vaccine research facility in Pennsylvania, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

“There are no indications that anyone has been exposed to a small number of frozen bottles,” the CDC said in a statement sent to CNN in an email.

“A laboratory worker accidentally found frozen bottles marked ‘Smallpox’ while cleaning a freezer at a vaccine research facility in Pennsylvania. The CDC, its administrative partners and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the contents of the bottles appear intact,” the CDC added.

“The lab worker who found the bottles wore gloves and a face mask. We’ll provide more information when available.”

The World Health Organization declared smallpox, also known as Variola, eradicated in 1980 after joint global vaccination efforts. Before that, a virus that transmitted easily from one person to another infected 15 million people a year and killed about 30 percent of them. The last known epidemic in the United States was in 1947.

In 2014, employees of the National Institutes of Health found six smallpox bottles in an unused storage room when they packed a laboratory at the NIH’s Bethesda, Maryland campus to move it. Two flasks contained viable virus. The CDC said at the time that there was no evidence that anyone had been exposed to the contents of any of the vials.

Governments have debated whether to keep samples of the virus or destroy all known copies. Most routine vaccinations were discontinued in 1972, but military personnel and some researchers are still vaccinated. The CDC recommends that people in need of long-term protection be vaccinated against smallpox every 3 to 5 years, although at least one study showed that vaccinated people may have at least some immunity for life.

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