An Army laboratory admitted this weekend that it had an ancient vial of “smallpox” that it left behind in its basement years ago. But a media report over the weekend suggested the vial contained the dangerous virus.
“Contrary to published reports, I can confirm that the smallpox vial was not a live sample of smallpox and was analyzed for collection purposes,” wrote David Triggs, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, in an email to The Associated Press. “It was never intended to be used for research.”
Triggs referred to several other reports that provided additional detail about the case.
The CDC said a small piece of paper containing the letter and the “smallpox” nameplate used in the lab disappeared at some point in 2014, and was not properly inventoried. The vial turned up in a lab in Connecticut two years later, it said.
The letter and the two other pieces of paper were found in a dumpster, officials said. Officials at the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture initially told the AP that the letter contained “live” smallpox. An AP examination of government documents at the disposal site revealed that the vaccine for smallpox was used to dilute the vial, which was discarded by the lab in the 1980s.
There have been about 100 confirmed cases of smallpox, including the first in 1855, according to the World Health Organization. Most cases were mild and caused only short-term fever and sore throat. Between 1900 and 1957, there were about 900 confirmed cases of the disease, including about 50 deaths. It was thought that smallpox would go extinct because of improved sanitation, bioterrorism measures and the eradication of the species in the 1960s.
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