Asian Lab Opens 'Accidental'
Parcel With Deadly Flu
From Patricia Doyle, PhD
Was Deadly Flu Deliberately Sent To Laboratories?
By Darren McEwen
Hong Kong media is reporting a lab worker in that city opened vials containing a fatal flu strain before health experts worldwide were warned to destroy the sample.
The worker is reportedly in good health but is being monitored.
The World Health Organization said earlier this week that thousands of labs were accidentally sent vials containing the Asian Flu. The disease is believed to be responsible for as many as four million deaths in 1957.
Flu Strain Samples Remain at Large
Health Officials Race to Tighten Rules
By Rob Stein and Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writers
At least four countries and more than 1,500 U.S. laboratories reported they had destroyed all their samples of a dangerous flu virus that had been shipped around the world, but thousands of others remained unaccounted for yesterday as health authorities in 18 countries intensified efforts to prevent a deadly outbreak.
U.S. officials were investigating the cause of the mishap and racing to tighten restrictions on the handling of particularly dangerous flu strains while international health officials kept close watch for any sign of lab employees coming down with the flu.
President Bush had been briefed on the situation, which is "a high priority for our government," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "The risk to the public from these samples is low. . . . Nevertheless, we do not want to take any chances."
The World Health Organization said Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore had confirmed destruction of their samples, but it was unclear how quickly other nations would comply.
"Things are now in full swing. We are getting daily updates, and Friday is our target," said Klaus Stohr, the WHO's top flu specialist. "We hope to hear all the samples are destroyed."
Although no infections had been reported and health authorities were hopeful that the risk was low, they said they were taking no chances.
"We are doing everything we can to make sure that there's no threat to human health," said Julie L. Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The same strain of virus killed 1 million to 4 million people, including 70,000 in the United States, in the 1957-58 Asian flu pandemic. The virus has not been seen outside labs since 1968.
"Anyone born after 1968 would not have had any exposure to this and would be completely susceptible," Gerberding said. "We are doing everything we can to make sure this virus does not infect an individual or spread to the public at large."
The first clues began to emerge about why Meridian Bioscience Inc. of Cincinnati included the virus in test kits the company began shipping last fall to more than 6,000 facilities, mostly in the United States, as part of routine certification of their lab testing abilities.
Killer flu samples shipped via FedEx, DHL
Debacle sheds light on byzantine system for transporting germsThe Associated Press
Every day, deadly germs are shipped across the country and around the globe, right alongside the books, gourmet foods and birthday presents sent through FedEx and similar couriers.
Often their journeys can be circuitous, too.
Follow, for instance, a single vial of the potentially deadly flu virus causing a world health scare because it was included in test kits sent to more than 4,000 laboratories. It was grown in a Virginia lab, spent time in a Cincinnati freezer and passed through a small medical company on the Mexican border before it finally arrived at a Milwaukee lab.
Health experts, government officials and the couriers insist the transportation of these germs is tightly regulated, and that the samples are heavily packaged and labeled to ensure safety. A catastrophic outbreak has never occurred as a result of such shipments.
"The safety level of the transport of biological material is incredibly high, said Dr. Jared Schwartz, a microbiologist and officer with the College of American Pathologists, which is in charge of the flu testing program. "I have no concerns about the safety of the transport.
Too close for comfort
But accidents do occur " and some scientists feel they,ve been too close for comfort.
Last month, a FedEx truck carrying five boxes of samples of anthrax, flu, tuberculosis, salmonella and E. coli collided with a car in Winnipeg. None of the dangerous germs escaped.
In 2003, a FedEx package containing West Nile virus exploded at the Port Columbus International Airport in Ohio. Firefighters suspected dry ice caused it to burst open. No one was injured, but 50 workers had to be evacuated.
"This has been a big concern for us, said Sujatha Byravan of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a Boston nonprofit fighting the U.S. expansion of high-containment labs that will be home to the world,s deadliest germs.
At least 18 such "hot labs are being planned or built in the United States in the coming years, and a growing number of scientists are being trained in the darker aspects of microbiology as part of a huge federal effort to combat bioterrorism.
"The more FedEx exchanges of biological material you have between labs, the more opportunities there are for accidents, Byravan said.
The thousands of deadly flu samples that labs were hastily destroying at the urging of global health officials originated at American Type Culture Collection, according to the college of pathologists. ATCC is a nonprofit laboratory in Manassas, Va., that ships many of the nation,s flu viruses and other dangerous germs to labs everywhere.
ATCC was created in 1925 by a group of scientists who wanted a central location for the nation,s supply of germs for laboratory use. The organization,s biological library has grown to 100,000 different specimens. It ships 150,000 biological items annually, making revenues of $32 million, according to its latest publicly available tax return.
An ATCC spokeswoman declined comment for this story.
In the days since some concerned Canadian scientists alerted the World Health Organization that their test kit included a flu strain responsible for killing between 1 million and 4 million people in 1957, blame is being placed on Meridian Bioscience Inc. of Cincinnati for shipping thousands of vials of the dangerous bug around the world.
As it turns out, most of the Cincinnati company,s test kits with the 1957 bug were ultimately assembled and shipped via FedEx and DHL by Proficiency Testing Service, a tiny Meridian subcontractor in Brownsville, Texas. The details on the shipping services used were released by Profiency Testing.
The test kits are sent three times a year to labs needing to certify their competency at identifying flu viruses. These kits included five samples. This time, one vial in each kit contained the dangerous 1957 flu strain.
The Milwaukee Health Department got its test kit from Brownsville on Feb. 23, said Dr. Jerald Sedmak, the city,s virology chief. He said each test kit costs the city about $600.
Special packaging
Sedmak said the public health threat was low because the flu strain arrived freeze-dried as a powder and doesn,t become dangerous until water is added. What,s more, Sedmak said the shipments are extensively packaged: Each vial is wrapped in a plastic bag containing absorbent material. The vials are enclosed in a hard plastic tubes, which are bubble-wrapped and packed in two heavy cardboard boxes.
FedEx said its employees and customers are "rigorously trained to handle dangerous biological material and federal laws and company policy mandate packages be clearly labeled and properly packaged.
"The packages are handled differently ... we have to protect our employees, too, said FedEx spokeswoman Lourdes Pena. Asked for more details, she conceded that dangerous biological material is shipped right alongside any other packages " only more carefully.
© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Was Deadly Flu Deliberately Sent To Laboratories?
MSNBC News Services
WASHINGTON - Federal officials are still at a loss to explain how a potentially deadly strain of influenza was sent to more than 4,000 labs around the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is operating under the presumption that the H2N2 strain was purposefully included in the panels designed to test the labs, proficiency in identifying viruses.
"I,m sure it was not an inadvertent use, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director, "because it would be almost impossible to believe that they didn,t know they were dealing with H2N2.
The samples were sent, beginning in September, as part of a testing process that measures a laboratory,s proficiency in detecting various strains of influenza. The College of American Pathologists directs the testing and contracted with Meridian Bioscience Inc., a company based in Cincinnati, to distribute the test panels.
The organization has a policy of excluding micro-organisms that can harm people from the test panels.
Dr. Jared Schwartz, an officer with the organization, said Meridian thought it had sent an ordinary flu strain, meaning a strain for which there are vaccines readily available. He said Meridian found the virus in 2000 in a "germ library that had come from another company.
Meridian executives were traveling and not available to comment, spokeswoman Brenda Hughes said.
Gerberding said she believes the strain was included in the test kit because it grows well and can be easily manipulated in the lab yet "without really considering that even a test strain in a panel could potentially cause a hazard, not only to the workers in the lab but to the people in the community.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry of Singapore said two laboratories in the Singapore General Hospital and the National University Hospital destroyed samples of the contagious H2N2 strain.
The kits were also sent to Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Mexico, Lebanon, Brazil and Italy.
Congressional action
CDC officials said the likelihood of the virus getting out in the public is remote, and that there are no signs anyone has contracted it.
"If an unusual virus had emerged, we would have known it by now, Gerberding said.
Still, she said, the agency was intent on ensuring that every sample shipped to more than 4,000 labs in 18 countries or territories had been destroyed.
The World Health Organization,s influenza chief, Klaus Stohr, said he was "relatively confident most of the samples outside the United States would be destroyed by Friday.
Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have destroyed their samples, while Japan was doing the same, WHO said. Taiwan and Germany announced they had destroyed all their vials.
The germ, the 1957 H2N2 "Asian flu strain, killed between 1 million and 4 million people. It has not been included in flu vaccines since 1968; anyone born after that date has little or no immunity to it.
Gerberding said the CDC would work with the pathologists and other organizations to establish better guidelines for proficiency testing.
Congressional action is also possible.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart-lung surgeon, said the shipments underscored "the need to bolster America,s domestic and global public health infrastructure.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said the virus shipments raises concerns about how they could be used by terrorists.
"We need a strong system to be put in place to limit the access to these materials and reduce the potential for an accidental or an intentional release of pathogens that pose a serious health hazard, Markey said in a letter to Michael Chertoff, the secretary for homeland security.
Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said he agreed that Congress should review how the strain was so easily distributed.
"We can,t have this happen, Osterholm said. "Who needs terrorists or Mother Nature, when through our own stupidity, we do things like this?
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
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Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
Go with God and in Good Health



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