The six long-lost vials of smallpox found this month at a government lab were only a small part of a cache of forgotten biological samples, officials announced Wednesday.
Smallpox was discovered among more than 300 vials in a cold-storage area in a
FDA officials said Wednesday that the agency planned to sweep all its common cold-storage facilities, including at its main campus in
"The fact that these materials were not discovered until now is unacceptable," said Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Twelve boxes containing a total of 327 vials were found July 1 in an FDA lab area on the
"All of the items labeled as infectious agents found in the collection of samples were stored in glass, heat-sealed vials that were well-packed, intact and free of any leakage, and there is no evidence that anyone was exposed," the FDA said in a statement.
The boxes sat together in the corner of a walk-in cold-storage area, in an area that wasn't frequently accessed, FDA officials told reporters Wednesday afternoon. The samples inside were probably put there between 1946 and 1964, before the FDA occupied the lab area, the agency said.
The six vials labeled “variola,” or smallpox virus, were turned over to the federal
Thirty-two of the vials in the cache, labeled as normal tissue or as smallpox-vaccine virus, were destroyed, and the rest of the vials were transferred to the
"We take this matter very seriously, and we are working to ensure this does not happen again," Midthun told reporters in a conference call. FDA officials said there would be an investigation but would not estimate when it would be complete.
The most common type of smallpox is serious, contagious and frequently fatal, with about 30% of cases resulting in death, according to the CDC. The disease was declared eradicated in 1980 after a worldwide vaccination program.
Smallpox was the most severe of the biological agents found in the cache, an FDA spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times in an email. "There were no other Tier 1 agents," she wrote.
The FDA defines Tier 1 agents as those that "present the greatest risk of deliberate misuse with significant potential for mass casualties or devastating effect to the economy, critical infrastructure or public confidence and pose a severe threat to public health and safety."