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A Box of Forgotten Smallpox Vials Was Just Found In an FDA Closet

Soulskill posted about 4 months ago | from the thanks-for-making-me-feel-safe dept.

Medicine 120

Jason Koebler writes: The last remaining strains of smallpox are kept in highly protected government laboratories in Russia and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. And, apparently, in a dusty cardboard box in an old storage room in Maryland. The CDC said today that government workers had found six freeze-dried vials of the Variola virus, which causes smallpox, in a storage room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland last week. Each test tube had a label on it that said "variola," which was a tip-off, but the agency did genetic testing to confirm that the viruses were, in fact, smallpox.

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And I thought (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411555)

Forgetting my car keys was a big deal....

Re:And I thought (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411569)

It is, when you sell your asshole to the highest bidder. You take it in the ass anyway, so you might as well get paid, right?

Re:And I thought (4, Funny)

mythosaz (572040) | about 4 months ago | (#47411631)

I'm not gay, but twenty bucks is twenty bucks.

Re:And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411693)

There is nothing gay about making money.

Re:And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412123)

gay for pay?

Re:And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412223)

Wait, you've been paying THEM? You manwhores are fired!

Re:And I thought (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413133)

Maybe, but you should make sure the winner is not black because stitching up your asshole is going to cost way more than twenty dollars.

Re: And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411675)

You're just pissed you didn't bid high enough.

Re:And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412149)

It is, when you sell your asshole to the highest bidder. You take it in the ass anyway, so you might as well get paid, right?

What I want to know is; how did you lose your keys in somebody's asshole?

Re:And I thought (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47411775)

That probably depends on whether your car keys have ever exterminated entire native civilizations. But that's a question you'll have to answer yourself.

Re:And I thought (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47411867)

It didn't exterminate entire civilizations: leaving a pitiful remnant of shell-shocked survivors to envy the dead and wonder why their gods had forsaken them amidst the ruins of their culture is an important part of the smallpox outreach approach!

Re:And I thought (5, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 4 months ago | (#47412177)

It didn't exterminate entire civilizations

Actually, some ethnic groups are believed to have been completely exterminated by smallpox. For instance, the Beothuk tribe of Newfoundland, had only one survivor of a smallpox epidemic, and she later died with no offspring. Smallpox first spread through the Americas in the early 1500s, when most tribes were pre-literate, so there are probably some other exterminated tribes that are lost to history.

Re:And I thought (1)

swillden (191260) | about 4 months ago | (#47412755)

Well, everyone makes mistakes once in a while.

Re:And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413109)

try that defense if you ever get charged with murder.

Re:And I thought (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47414011)

try that defense if you ever get charged with murder.

That's pretty much 'negligent homicide'...

Re:And I thought (1)

swillden (191260) | about 4 months ago | (#47415141)

try that defense if you ever get charged with murder.

The mistake I was referring to was smallpox's occasional error in failing to leave a few survivors.

Re:And I thought (1)

operagost (62405) | about 4 months ago | (#47414927)

Well, they gave the Westerners syphillis, so... call it even.

Re:And I thought (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47414439)

FYI - There are actually two main strains of smallpox. The most common causes death in 30 - 35% of the people who contract it. The second one (the bad one) kills about 90% of the people who contract it. You don't want either but the second is almost a death sentence. Researchers in the 60's found both strains often occured together in outbreaks. Makes one wonder if it is the same strain but the second has a recessive gene, like blue eyes.

If only the second strain were to be in an outbreak, It could pretty much annihilate a population. In the case of Indian tribes, where there was no immunity in the society whatsoever, it wouldn't be a suprise if even the first would kill at a rate much higher than normal. This is a very dangerous (to say the least) virus to have lying around. What's in your cupboards?

Re:And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413589)

leaving a pitiful remnant of shell-shocked survivors to envy the dead and wonder why their gods had forsaken them amidst the ruins of their culture is an important part of the Fiat pinto keys outreach approach!

FTFY

Re: And I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411871)

If I ever find them I'll update you on that. I suspect not though.

Re:And I thought (2)

geniice (1336589) | about 4 months ago | (#47412057)

Cleaning out old lab stores is always interesting. Open the wrong thing you end up up breathing hydrogen chloride. Mind you the worst I've ever found is sodium cyanide. Others have found human heads.

Re:And I thought (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412845)

Well, if you ever see a bottle labeled "dimethylmercury", just back away very slowly, and then run for your life. You could also call for help while you're at it.

Re:And I thought (1)

jittles (1613415) | about 4 months ago | (#47415183)

Forgetting my car keys was a big deal....

Sorry guys. My bad. I thought I had taken those samples with me when I moved back to my home country of Iraq. -- Sadam

Um.... (5, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#47411587)

> And, apparently, in a dusty cardboard box in an old storage room in Maryland.

And, who knows? Maybe a dozen other places. How did that rule of thumb go? For every security breach you find, there's probably several you didn't find.

Re:Um.... (5, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | about 4 months ago | (#47411685)

Well, this should be kept in mind every time someone says "we've eradicated disease X, lets destroy the lab samples".

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/artic... [cdc.gov]

Re:Um.... (1)

liquid_schwartz (530085) | about 4 months ago | (#47415301)

Doesn't apply anymore, we no longer achieve great things like eradicating a disease.

Re:Um.... (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47411757)

Wasn't the rule of thumb "Take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."?

Re:Um.... (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 4 months ago | (#47412511)

The only cure for infestation is purification by fire!

Re:Um.... (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about 4 months ago | (#47414359)

i thought the rule of thumb was no good, cant do much damage with that now can ya? should have called it the rule of wrist!

Re:Um.... (2)

Stargoat (658863) | about 4 months ago | (#47411791)

Considering how many doctors used to inoculate for smallpox, a lot. There's probably envelopes containing spores in old collections. Hope they're dead.

Re:Um.... (3, Informative)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#47411843)

Considering how many doctors used to inoculate for smallpox, a lot. There's probably envelopes containing spores in old collections. Hope they're dead.

Wait, I was alive during that time -- the smallpox vaccine wasn't made from smallpox, it was made from cowpox. So samples of the vaccine would not be smallpox, dead or otherwise. Samples of smallpox would be from labs specifically testing the disease. (Hopefully, testing for means to eradicate it.)

Re:Um.... (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47411909)

Wait, I was alive during that time -- the smallpox vaccine wasn't made from smallpox, it was made from cowpox

I strongly suggest you read more. There were other [wikipedia.org] ways of innoculating against smallpox which were also commonly used, especially, before better methods were developed.

Re:Um.... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 4 months ago | (#47412245)

I strongly suggest you read more. There were other [wikipedia.org] ways of innoculating against smallpox

Indeed. Direct inoculation with pus or scabs from smallpox pustules was used long before vaccines were discovered. These inoculations had about a 2% mortality rate, compared with ~30% for those contracting the airborne virus. Knowledge of inoculation spread from China, through the Muslim world, into Africa. African slaves taught the technique to Americans. From there it spread to Europe. Vaccinations (based on cowpox) came centuries later.

Re:Um.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412383)

I think you've got a few too many steps. The European states in the early 1700s actually interacted quite closely with the Muslim world. The Muslim world for them was synonymous with the Ottoman Empire. One needs look no further than that.

Re:Um.... (2)

swilly (24960) | about 4 months ago | (#47412841)

According to Wikipedia, this is not quite true. Chinese did discover the practice in the 10th century, and reports on the practice were given to the Royal Society in 1700, but no action was taken.

The Ottomans learned it before the early 18th century, but we don't know for certain how or when it got there. They also reported on it to the Royal Society in 1714 and 1716, but nobody paid much attention until the wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottomans witnessed it and introduced it to Europe's ruling elite. It was introduced to America in 1721 by the Puritan minister Cotton Mather (of the Salem Witch Trials fame). He had heard of it from a Sudanese slave, but he was also familiar with the Royal Society reports and had been trying to get physicians to attempt the procedure.

We don't know when the procedure was introduced to Africa, but it was introduced via the Muslim world. We also don't know when it was introduced to India, who may have discovered it independently (but probably not).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I... [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

What did we do before Wikipedia?

Re:Um.... (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 4 months ago | (#47413419)

What did we do before Wikipedia?

We read the original books many of those Wikipedia articles have been copied from.

Re:Um.... (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47415811)

We read the original books many of those Wikipedia articles have been copied from.

We still do, but they are not online: which makes them difficult to link to.

These days, if your content isn't coded in HTML, online, freely accessible, and linked by a reliable authoritative directory, such as WP: then you don't exist.

Re:Um.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411937)

Before the vaccine was invented, they had inoculation -- bits of smallpox scabs injected into a person. This means that a couple centuries ago, your average doctor would have had smallpox laying around to inoculate patients with. Any old medical something-or-other from the 1700s could contain smallpox.

dom

Re:Um.... (1)

NouberNou (1105915) | about 4 months ago | (#47412281)

I doubt the virus is still alive if the sample is from the 1700s. Modern viral storage techniques didn't come about until the 20th century and even then it was still a troublesome aspect in most industrialized countries, and a big part of biowarfare research (gotta keep the virus capable despite being loaded into bombs, rockets, and other dispensers). Seeing that the US and Soviets had a massive problem getting this to work for many kinds of viruses I seriously doubt that some guy in the 1700s who didn't even know what a virus was would be capable of coming up with a better solution.

Re:Um.... (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 4 months ago | (#47413687)

(Hopefully, testing for means to eradicate it.)

Of course. "It" being our enemies.

Re:Um.... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 4 months ago | (#47415567)

Wait, I was alive during that time -- the smallpox vaccine wasn't made from smallpox, it was made from cowpox. So samples of the vaccine would not be smallpox, dead or otherwise. Samples of smallpox would be from labs specifically testing the disease. (Hopefully, testing for means to eradicate it.)

And only a decade or so ago, smallpox was effectively eradicated from the world - a win for vaccinations.

Of course, then we had the whole anti-vaxxer thing and now, smallpox is back and as infectious as ever. And you thought whooping cough was bad. All these controlled diseases are now rampaging communities again, except instead of in poorer nations in Africa and the like where the lack of medical care derives from corrupt governments and poverty, it's in first-world nations with access to clean water, medical aid, education, etc.

Re:Um.... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#47415919)

Wait, I was alive during that time -- the smallpox vaccine wasn't made from smallpox, it was made from cowpox. So samples of the vaccine would not be smallpox, dead or otherwise. Samples of smallpox would be from labs specifically testing the disease. (Hopefully, testing for means to eradicate it.)

And only a decade or so ago, smallpox was effectively eradicated from the world - a win for vaccinations.

Of course, then we had the whole anti-vaxxer thing and now, smallpox is back and as infectious as ever. And you thought whooping cough was bad. All these controlled diseases are now rampaging communities again, except instead of in poorer nations in Africa and the like where the lack of medical care derives from corrupt governments and poverty, it's in first-world nations with access to clean water, medical aid, education, etc.

Wait a minute. People haven't been regularly vaccinated for Smallpox since 1971. (Don't take my word for it, check the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.) Not because of "the anti-vaxxer thing" but because the disease was eradicated. *Four* decades ago. This is why you don't see people in civilized countries with smallpox vaccination scars who aren't old enough to be grandparents.

According to the CDC, the last known case in the US was 1945 and the last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977. (This is really easy to look up...)

So, I have to ask, is someone telling you that smallpox is raging through the world population because some former playmate is against vaccination? Is that the story they're telling now? Or have you confused smallpox with some other disease, perhaps?

Re:Um.... (1)

jandersen (462034) | about 4 months ago | (#47413447)

And, who knows? Maybe a dozen other places

Indeed. As it turns out, the greatest threat to mankind is not necessarily from power-crazed world-leaders sitting on huge arsenals, but from people who didn't care enough, didn't think far enough ahead and didn't understand what they were dealing with.

Patience, my pretty... (1)

djupedal (584558) | about 4 months ago | (#47411609)

A virus will always find a way.

Next thing we know, someone will find that the people responsible for tracking those vials mysteriously died from the same pox. "Gee, Professor...I wonder what's in these?"

Re:Patience, my pretty... (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 4 months ago | (#47411637)

This is why we need to go back to vaccinating for smallpox. It's only a matter of time before it gets out again and with an unprotected public it'll spread like wildfire.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411671)

No it won't. We have enough vaccine in anti-terror storage to vaccinate the country and the disease is slow spreading. Sure it will suck to be in city 0 but we'll stop it.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 4 months ago | (#47411805)

No it won't. We have enough vaccine in anti-terror storage to vaccinate the country and the disease is slow spreading. Sure it will suck to be in city 0 but we'll stop it.

but if we just preemptively vaccinate then city zero won't be an issue.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411893)

Sure. Let's vaccinate against a disease that is eradicated in the wild. Never mind the possibility (likelihood, in a large enough population) of adverse side effects - eczema vaccinatum, progressive vaccinia, and postvaccinal encephalitis, for example. (14-52 people per million vaccinated, or .0014%-.0052%.)

No vaccine is side effect free. In most cases, the risk of the side effects is justified by the fact that their likelihood is far, far lower than the likelihood of the disease in an unvaccinated population, and they tend to be far lower in severity than the disease. But for smallpox, given that it no longer occurs in the wild, the risk is unjustifiable.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412491)

It's people like you who prevent us from being in a cool zombie apocalypse.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (4, Interesting)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47412839)

But for smallpox, given that it no longer occurs in the wild, the risk is unjustifiable.

There are some people, however... that should always be vaccinated against Smallpox:

1. Anyone working at the secure facility where these samples are stored; especially any lab workers, security guards, and cleaning staff.
2. Anyone working at a facility where the samples are used to study Smallpox are being handled.
3. Healthcare professionals, doctors/nurses/... that see patients and are occasionally exposed to people with various skin diseases or work in foreign countries where smallpox used to be prevalent.
4. Everyone that any of the people above are in daily contact with.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413901)

You should also be careful with them carrots my friend, you might choke on them.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (1)

operagost (62405) | about 4 months ago | (#47415015)

You crazy anti-vaxxer! Who let Jenny McCarthy in here?

Re: Patience, my pretty... (2)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about 4 months ago | (#47412293)

You might want to look up the "Swine Flu Scare of 1976". A few cases of swine flu infected some recruits on a military base in New Jersey. Public health officials fearing an outbreak began a mass vaccination campaign costing over a hundred million dollars, up to 500 cases of Guillain–Barré syndrome, and at least 25 deaths. All to stop a flu that never exceeded 5 infections contained to Fort Dix, and only 1 death directly attributable to the flu. Vaccines can be a great thing, they have came a long way since even that incident, but used without justifiable cause they DO result in more harm than good.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 months ago | (#47412879)

[vaccination caused] 25 deaths. All to stop a flu that never exceeded 5 infections contained to Fort Dix

Yes, but you can't go back in time and discover what would have happened if they didn't mass vaccinate. Sure dumb luck may have caught all five cases before it spread further, but do you want to bet your life on dumb luck?

Re: Patience, my pretty... (3, Insightful)

Rich0 (548339) | about 4 months ago | (#47413315)

[vaccination caused] 25 deaths. All to stop a flu that never exceeded 5 infections contained to Fort Dix

Yes, but you can't go back in time and discover what would have happened if they didn't mass vaccinate. Sure dumb luck may have caught all five cases before it spread further, but do you want to bet your life on dumb luck?

Yup, this sounds a bit like Y2K in retrospective. Was money wasted on it because it turned out to be a non-event, or was it a non-event because so much was spent on it?

Always money to do it over, never money to do it right... :)

Re: Patience, my pretty... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413545)

One doesn't bet on dumb luck and if you choose to vaccinate with its associated risks and you haven't weighed them up against the actual risks of not vaccinating then that is exactly what you have done.

Emotive words make the wrong decision. Be careful where you use them before you cause the problem.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 4 months ago | (#47413831)

But you don't have dandruff!

Exactly!

Re: Patience, my pretty... (5, Informative)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47412797)

but if we just preemptively vaccinate then city zero won't be an issue.

The Vaccine for Smallpox is not entirely safe, because the vaccine consists of essentially another virus called Vaccinia.

This is an infectious virus; the Smallpox Vaccine infects the person who has been vaccinated.

Unlike many other Vaccines -- however, there are significant rates of adverse reaction. Further improvements to the vaccine require human testing, and since the disease has been deemed eradicated --- no improvements can really be made:

Average 1 in 1 to 2 million people vaccinated result in deaths, many more people experience severe complications but don't die. If there are 300 million people vaccinated; then you could estimate that 300 people would die of complications. It is quite unlikely for you to be one of the 300.......... it's also unlikely for the Smallpox vaccine to help you against Smallpox in the future. Still..... the complications can be pretty nasty, even if you do survive. Most people should probably deem the extra protection not worth the more immediate very real dangers:

Post-Vaccinial Encephalitis: 1 in ~3 million people vaccinated. 25% of these: permanent neurological damage; 15-25% die.

Vaccinia necrosum: Progressive tissue death ("necrosis") at the original injection site. 1 persion per 1 to 2 million vaccinations; almost always fatal before availability of vaccinia imunoglobins; people with T-Cell deficiencies are particularly at high risk.

Vaccinia Keratitis: accidental transfer of vaccinia virus leading to lesions of the eye. Reaction: threatens eyesight, corneal scarring....

Eczema Vaccinatum. Too horrible to think of; people who already have some form of eczema, atopic dermatitis, or sensitive skin are at high risk and fatalaties have resulted in the past. Virus produces extensive lesions throughout the skin. Patient's life may be saved with early hospitalization and urgent treatment.

1 in 242 million vaccinated will contract a generalized vaccinia infection -- involving pustules forming about the skin distant from the site of injection and generalized rashes throughout the body; for some patients with weakened immune systems, this results in a toxic and potentially fatal course.

1 in 1 million people to be vaccinated on average, develop a systemic reaction to the vaccine which has a likelihood of fatal outcomes; people who have been immunocompromised or have a weak immune system are particularly susceptible.

Even more people have a severe adverse reaction which may be crippling or severe enough to give one pause about if one really needs the vaccine. Is it an appropriate risk tradeoff? What is the true risk of contracting smallpox VS the cost of taking the vaccine?

Successful vaccination always produces a lesion at the vaccination site, within 4 days, and it will leave a permanent mark which may be undesirable; this will be highly itchy, and highly infectious --- easily carried by clothing, and easily transferred to hands or other body parts to come in contact with it. Contact or contact with anything that touched the lesion may result in infection/lesions of vaccinia on other part of the body, and also: contact with other people ("inadvertent vaccination of friends or family, for example").

Weeks of malaise and discomfort after the vaccination are essentially guaranteed; the vaccine will essentially almost definitely make you feel sick, and likely for 3 to 7 days, similar to a cold.

17% to 20% of vaccinees experience a fever exceeding 100 degrees, during the first 2 weeks after vaccination, and plenty of vaccinated experience a fever exceeding 102F for the first 5 days.

Most people vaccinated experience significant irritation at the vaccination site: including significant soreness, and a variety of kinds of skin rashes plus myalgia lasting 5 to 7 days. More rarely: Stevens-Johnson syndrome results, in which necrosis ("tissue death") of the skin results, in a life-threatening condition involving the dermis of the skin separating from the epidermis.

Re: Patience, my pretty... (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about 4 months ago | (#47414423)

wait, so we have enough to vaccinate the USA... while the rest of the world dies off??

well ok then

Re:Patience, my pretty... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47411783)

A virus will always find a way.

What is this, Variolic Park or what?

Smallpox. Brasil put down. Which is most bad? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411649)

In the wild. And Brasil got its hiney beaten to a pulp. Which is badder?

Smallpox. Brasil put down. Which is most bad? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412043)

You are a cunt, some people haven't seen that match yet.

Re:Smallpox. Brasil put down. Which is most bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413127)

You should watch it. Germany 7, Brazil 1. Highly entertaining.

"Security" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411653)

Nice to know they actually keep track of these things. What's next? "Nuke found in sandbox"

Re:"Security" (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47411785)

Nice to know they actually keep track of these things. What's next? "Nuke found in sandbox"

Oh, were you planning on visiting the scenic Hanford Nuclear Reservation?

Re:"Security" (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47411973)

Nice to know they actually keep track of these things. What's next? "Nuke found in sandbox"

Consider this: 50 years ago, they were just samples of a common infection --- no extraordinary accounting or security measures were required, and it's certainly possible that a number of samples slipped through the cracks and have been "lost" and are just out there somewhere.

Who would have known that Smallpox would eventually be mostly eradicated, and security would ever be a concern?

You can't bolt on security after the fact ---- Smallpox is out there, and someone who wants it badly enough, with sufficient resources, who knows where to look, can surely find it by some means. Hint: This includes state actors, such as countries who would be our enemies. I'm not concerned about terrorists ---- only, foreign governments, or utterly callous or insane (but rich) people, e.g. arms dealers, for the most part.

As for the terrorists.... I think they'll stick with something simpler, as getting ahold of Smallpox is neither easy nor cheap, nor likely an efficient use of their resources; I doubt that a slow-spreading disease is really capable of generating a sufficient level of terror, for their tastes: anyways.

Terrorists have a number of potentially nasty biological and chemical poisonous agents, which are likely much easier for those folks to get ahold of. Also, explosives or poisons in crowded areas with immediate casualties gets more attention.

The greatest concern should be that they get ahold of a WMD or ability to generate a large amount of radioactive material, that can 'safely' be handled and dispersed without great expertise.

Re:"Security" (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 4 months ago | (#47412935)

they were just samples of a common infection

A common infection that killed more people in the 20th century than all wars put together. It's shocking to think that someone would carelessly misplace a vial of an airborne infectious agent with a mortality rate above 20%, even in the mid-20th century. Smallpox is hands-down the deadliest disease in human history - the only reason it could be eradicated was the lack of non-human reservoirs. I'm not particularly afraid of nuclear war, but the thought of smallpox outbreaks scares the shit out of me.

Re:"Security" (3, Interesting)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47413119)

It's shocking to think that someone would carelessly misplace a vial of an airborne infectious agent with a mortality rate above 20%

We don't know for a fact that this particular copy of Smalllpox was one of the highly fatal versions. I'm sure this was not careless, as it was appropriately stored. They apparently just lost track of the fact that it was there and where it was, in terms of recordkeeping and careful management of the research specimens.

Seeing as the vial was quite carefully freeze-dried, sealed, and placed into the cold storage, in a lab where dangerous specimens would ordinarily be stored, requiring the appropriate training of staff for safe handling of such samples: it was really no danger.

Cold storage in vials boxed up is not unusually risky treatment for an infectious agent. I am sure if you looked at more dusty boxes in the cold storage at the various laboratories and regulators, you would find numerous examples of very serious highly-infectious agents, including plenty of examples of Ebola, Marburg, Nipah, SARS, West Nile, Poliomyelitis/Polio, Hepatitis, Pappataci (Yellow Fever), Measles, Spanish flu, HIV, Tuberculoisis, .

A common infection that killed more people in the 20th century than all wars put together.

Smallpox didn't start in the 20th century; its prominence in the 20th century was a culmination of over 500 years of infecting humans.. in the early 20th century, there were many diseases, and it's not so clear to what degree Smallpox actually cut lives significantly shorter than they otherwise would have been. Smallpox caused a lot of deaths, and there were highly virulent strains that developed, but most strains were not so highly deadly and not necessarily airborne either; Variola Minor vs Variola Major, etc, etc.... It didn't kill all the humans(TM) like the black death almost did, else, we wouldn't be around to talk about it, as Smallpox was very tenacious and nasty.... but not necessarily the absolute worst virological threat that we have known as a species.

Re:"Security" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411985)

Well, peoples memories are incredibly short. One of the thing that's shocking to me is that a neighborhood is being built right next to the "Rocky Flats Wildlife Preserve" because you know, it's always going to be open space. I work about 10 miles from there and have to drive past it occasionally. And people are buying these houses. Their backyards literally back up to Rocky Flats. They probably won't find a nuclear bomb in their sandbox, but a trigger is certainly a possibility.

I've personally got bets on when the first lawsuit is filed when one of the idiots who bought one of these houses realizes what they're next door to.

Re:"Security" (1)

geniice (1336589) | about 4 months ago | (#47412047)

Nukes are unlikely. However I'd bet there are a few physics labs with poorly documented collections of radioactives.

Ancient Demon Discovered (4, Insightful)

silvermorph (943906) | about 4 months ago | (#47411691)

We love fantasy novels where someone discovers a box that holds ancient power and destruction, and then the hero has to save the day.
Well, it just happened.

Re:Ancient Demon Discovered (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47411833)

It's a trifle less dramatic because most ancient evils can resist conventional incineration...

The tales of "Pandora's autoclave" and "Bilbo 'biohazard' Baggins transports some stuff to the nearest incinerator" just haven't caught the public imagination.

Re:Ancient Demon Discovered (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412049)

But you can't incinerate Disco Inferno!

Burn, baby, burn... Disco Inferno! Burn, Baby, Burn!

Re:Ancient Demon Discovered (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413369)

The tales of (...) "Bilbo 'biohazard' Baggins transports some stuff to the nearest incinerator" just haven't caught the public imagination.

Frodo Baggins, on the other hand...

Re:Ancient Demon Discovered (1)

internerdj (1319281) | about 4 months ago | (#47414507)

Oh for some mod points.

Dammit Smithers (2)

russotto (537200) | about 4 months ago | (#47411727)

When I said send it to Maryland, I meant Fort Detrick, not NIH.

they don't want to destory it (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 4 months ago | (#47411789)

medical experts of WHO in 2011 had requested the U.S. CDC and Russian VECTOR destroy their stores of smallpox, that no good purpose is served by keeping them. but still the stuff remains.

Re: they don't want to destory it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411963)

I imagine the good purpose is continue research. What worse than to write off a disease only to found out some nutter still has some and has altered it and you have no reference to build an effective cure from.

Re: they don't want to destory it (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 4 months ago | (#47412017)

effective vaccine can be built from related virus, no need for specific strain of smallpox (and they are all sequenced anyway)

Re: they don't want to destory it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412037)

Arrgh I'll blame that on ignorance then. Maybe they haven't finished weaponising it yet then?

Re:they don't want to destory it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412309)

No good is served by "destroying" it either, as if the countries holding it have nefarious intent they will simply lie about having destroyed it to better obscure their bioweapon development (or whatever).

Re:they don't want to destory it (2)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 months ago | (#47412747)

Why not destroy it? You and I along with the rest of us damn well know the virus has been sequenced and stored on file someplace. Not sure how trivial is it for a superpower's military complex, but pull the file and synthesize the virus again as a bioweapon with extra bonus features coded in. So again, why keep it physically around? Are we trying to usher in one of the four horseman or what?!

Re:they don't want to destory it (1)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | about 4 months ago | (#47413585)

Yes, Pollution. But that is another story. As anybody knows, Pestilence retired mumbling something about Penicillin.

Re:they don't want to destory it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47413511)

> that no good purpose is served by keeping them

Of course a good purpose remains. it's called "biological weapons". Another reason is as defense against them.

Re:they don't want to destory it (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about 4 months ago | (#47414957)

actually finding this makes a good point that they were actually correct and should not destroy them. lets just say that this virus got out and we destroyed our remaining stocks, would that not make it harder to make a modern vaccine?

Just so you know it was in COLD STORAGE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411817)

It was not a broom closet. Better a broom closet since it would have long ago vanished.

I always suspected... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47411983)

I'm glad smallpox has finally come out of the closet.

But don't worry... (4, Funny)

Arkh89 (2870391) | about 4 months ago | (#47412039)

Don't worry, the box has already filled a complaint to Google in order to remove all search results related to this story...
And it will gone for good...

Re:But don't worry... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412169)

Don't you mean that if the complaint succeeds, WE will be gone for good?

Did they (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412093)

Check the sell by date?

FDA != NIH (0)

idontneedanickname (570477) | about 4 months ago | (#47412115)

Misleading headline: FDA != NIH.

Re:FDA != NIH (2)

Albanach (527650) | about 4 months ago | (#47412229)

Misleading headline: FDA != NIH.

Guessing you never read the article. Had you done so, you would have seen this bit:

"[E]mployees discovered vials labeled ”variola,” commonly known as smallpox, in an unused portion of a storage room in a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory located on the NIH Bethesda campus."

Re:FDA != NIH (1)

hamburger lady (218108) | about 4 months ago | (#47412545)

waitwaitwait...are you telling me. that the summary. got it right?!

Imagine if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412505)

Imagine if a Native American found it...

In silico samples (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47412777)

It's not like the genome isn't floating around on the internet. Within the decade any bog-standard biology lab will be able to make the stuff from scratch. We could probably do it right now.

I think this is the biggest risk. (3, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 4 months ago | (#47412785)

I think this is the biggest risk when it comes to a possible new outbreak. Some uneducated people clean out a lab of storage facility and just throws everything in a dumpster without knowing what they are working with.

It has happened before with other stuff (medical records, computers etc.) and it will happen again. The question is if there is something somewhere that is a major danger. Even worse is if there are some vials with biological warfare material that makes Ebola seem like a common cold. Since much of that research is done secretly it's not easy to know - and in some cases everyone that knows may have passed away and the remains of those projects are just stored in a warehouse with a reference to some documents that have been shredded a decade or more ago.

nomal 30 years ago (3, Informative)

thygate (1590197) | about 4 months ago | (#47413319)

I just saw a report on the discovery of the Ebola Virus back in the late seventies. Back then the samples of a new unknown deadly disease from missionaries in Congo were put in card board boxes that were carried through Antwerp city (Belgium) on foot, taking them to the university for analysis under an electron microscope. The virus was isolated in a normal room back then and stored in a thermos. source: Prof. EM. Guido Van Der Groen (Virologist)

Re:nomal 30 years ago (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47414325)

I know this is slashdot, but how come every story here has to somehow involve python or its inventor?

OMAGHERD (1)

Aryden (1872756) | about 4 months ago | (#47414187)

Fuck me, I worked in that office for most of last year.
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