The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are both investigating after vials were found with the label “Smallpox” at a Merck & Co. research laboratory, as reported by the Daily Caller.
An alert over the vials was sent to the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, which drew federal investigators to the facility based just outside of Philadelphia. At least 15 vials were discovered that were considered “questionable,” with five of them being labeled “smallpox;” the other 10 were labeled “vaccinia.” The facility was subsequently locked down, and the vials were seized by the government.
A CDC spokesperson said that the vials were discovered by a lab worker who was “wearing gloves and a face mask,” with “no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials.”
“CDC, its Administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the vials’ contents appear intact,” the spokesperson continued. “We will provide further details as they are available.”
Smallpox, formally known as the variola virus, was completely wiped out in 1980 after a vaccine was finally developed and implemented across the world. The last confirmed natural case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949.
Since then, the World Health Organization (WHO) has permitted only two research facilities in the entire world to continue studying the dead virus: the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Russian State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology, located in Koltsovo in the Novosibirsk Region of Russia. There have been ongoing debates as to whether or not the last few remaining samples of the virus should be held onto for further study, or if they should be destroyed in order to render the virus completely extinct.