- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- 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
- 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
- "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
- Gerberding said the CDC would work with the pathologists
and other organizations to establish better guidelines for proficiency
- 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
- 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
- Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
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