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Long-Forgotten Smallpox Vials Found In FDA Storage Room

CDC employees were shocked to find several vials of one of humanity's deadliest viruses in a storage room while moving the lab to another location.
Posted at 11:18 PM, Jul 08, 2014

Here's something scientists don't stumble upon every day. Several long-forgotten vials of one of humanity's deadliest viruses were discovered in an FDA storage room in Maryland.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the vials contained "variola" — the most common form of smallpox — and likely date back to the 1950s. (Via CBS)

CDC employees found them earlier this month at an FDA lab in Bethesda, Maryland, while packing to move the lab to a new location. (Via ABC)

They immediately isolated the vials in a containment lab and called the CDC's branch that handles toxic materials. Tests verified the liquid was indeed smallpox. The vials have since been safely put away at CDC laboratory in Atlanta. (Via Getty Images)

The history of smallpox is pretty terrifying. 

The deadly virus killed 500 million people in the 20th century alone. Fortunately, it was eradicated worldwide in 1980 by the World Health Organization and there hasn't been a single case reported in the U.S. since 1949. (Via The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Getty Images)

But it doesn't look like the CDC is taking any chances, especially because there's ongoing fear that smallpox could be used as a bio-terrorist threat.

The Washington Post reports the CDC is working with the FBI to investigate how the vials were even stored at an FDA facility in the first place. CDC Spokesman Tom Skinner said, “We’re trying to find out. ... This certainly is an unusual event.”

In fact, the virus can only be housed at two locations across the globe: a facility in Atlanta and another spot at a research center in Russia. And both are closely monitored by the WHO. (Via The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

NBC points out its the second mistake from a federal agency laboratory in two months. In June, 80 employees at the CDC were exposed to live anthrax when safety procedures were not followed properly.

No evidence suggests anyone has been infected by smallpox and the CDC is now testing whether the virus could spread. Results aren't expected for a couple weeks.