News Stories

Lethal Viruses Lost in Shipment

Agence France-Presse - Some samples of adeadly fluvirus that a US institute sent out to more than 3,700laboratories around the world have disappeared on their wayto two of their destinations (in Lebanon and Mexico) theUN's health agency revealed Friday.

So far, laboratories in 12 of the 18 countries thatinadvertently received the samples containing H2N2 "Asian"flu from the College of American Pathologists have destroyedthem, the World Health Organization said. "Some of thecountries and laboratories never received anything," KlausStohr, the WHO's chief flu expert, told journalists. "Theywere on the address list of the college, but never receivedanything, We were given to understand that the material wasshipped, but it never arrived, for instance in Lebanon,Mexico," he added.

Stohr said he placed a very high priority on aninvestigation in the United States to find out if there wasan error in the shipping list, or if the samples were lostduring shipment. "There is still a possibility that thismaterial was never sent, but there is no confirmation."

The H2N2 strain is similar to the 1957 flu virus that killedup to four million people across the world in the late1950s, and as such should not have been sent out in routinetest kits for pathogens. Stohr played down the health risks,because the samples were freeze dried and swiftlydeteriorated on exposure to room temperatures, water orsunlight.

The discovery in recent weeks of the shipments since Octobersparked a WHO alert and a scramble by the 3,747laboratories, which are mainly in the United States, todestroy them. "It's obvious that the end of thisinvestigation by the CDC and our association is to look atwhat really went wrong and why this virus strain was sentout...those questions have to be answered," said Dr. JaredSchwartz, spokesman for the College of American Pathologists.

The WHO and US authorities said two thirds of thelaboratories (2,227) had confirmed that the samples had beenincinerated, including more than 90% of the 60 laboratoriesoutside the United States. Five countries, excluding theUnited States?Bermuda, Brazil, Israel, Japan, SaudiArabia?still had to confirm destruction of all samplesreceived there, but that was expected soon, the WHO indicated.

Schwartz said, "It's not clear to us that it wasdeliberate...we don't have any evidence Meridian acted inbad faith. It's clear with the information they provided usthey thought it was a different virus." He attributed theerror to possible "mislabeling...or they didn't identifycorrectly the virus."

But CDC Director Julie Geberding said it was "almostimpossible to believe" the company "didn't know they weredealing with H2N2."

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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