ATLANTA (AP) — A government scientist cleaning out an old storage room at a research center near Washington made a startling discovery last week — decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.
The six glass vials were intact and sealed, and scientists have yet to establish whether the virus is dead or alive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
Still, the find was disturbing because for decades after smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, world health authorities said the only known samples left were safely stored in super-secure laboratories in Atlanta and in Russia.
Officials said this is the first time in the US that unaccounted-for smallpox has been discovered. But at least one leading scientist raised the possibility that there are more such vials out there around the world.
The CDC and the FBI are investigating.
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