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September 4, 2015

‘Whoops!’ on the Smallpox Find

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a notice this week on the discovery of vials of the smallpox virus in a Food and Drug Administration laboratory storeroom at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. The surprising find prompted this weekend’s  Economist magazine, in an article titled “Whoops!,” to review the debate over keeping samples of the easily transmitted virus, which the  World Health Organization declared eradicated in 1980.

“The revelation that America, which might be expected to have good record-keeping, cannot keep track of all its samples does little to inspire trust,” the magazine said.

The WHO urged the destruction of all samples but researchers suggest that some samples should be retained in case of a renewed outbreak of the disease. Until the discovery at NIH, the only two known samples of the virus were at the CDC in Atlanta, Ga., and a lab in Russia.

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