Smallpox Virus Vials Found In Unsecured Government Storage Room

Forgotten vials of the Smallpox virus were found in an unsecured government lab storage room in the Washington, D.C. area. Workers cleaning out the old research center storage room were quite shocked when they stumbled across several old vials of Smallpox inside a cardboard box.

Since the vials of the deadly disease were left at room temperature for at least three decades, the virus is likely dead, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cannot confirm the active nature of the samples until further testing is completed.

The Smallpox vials were found at the National Institute of Health campus in Maryland. All six vials of freeze-dried virus were sealed with melted glass and still intact. Although the deadly virus inside the vials is most likely dead, the discovery is still being deemed as disturbing due to the lack of safety protocol involved in the storage method. Government officials and world health authorities had believed the only samples of Smallpox were stored in “super secure” labs in Atlanta and Russia.

Smallpox was declared eradicated during the 1980s. Government officials claim that the vials discovered at the National Institute of Health campus is the first time an unaccounted for sample of Smallpox has ever been discovered.

In June, an incident described as a “safety lapse” at the CDC in Atlanta left dozens of staffers potentially exposed to Anthrax. The extremely dangerous germ was reportedly mishandled in the Georgia Centers for Disease Control lab, leading to the health scare.

The Bethesda, Maryland campus has been used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1972. Government officials reportedly believe that the Smallpox vials might have been stored at the site since the 1950s, but no records have been located to indicate the placement history of the vials. So far, no Smallpox cases have been presented or contamination found inside the building.

vials of smallpox found

Smallpox can remain deadly even after being placed in the freeze-dried state. But, the deadly virus must be kept cold in order to remain both active and dangerous. “We don’t know yet if it’s live and infectious. It’s possible it could be inactivated because of long length of storage,” CDC Deputy Director Stephan Monroe said.


It will take at least two weeks of testing at the CDC in Atlanta before the exact nature of the Smallpox virus in the vials in known. The virus was among the most deadly in history and killed approximately one-third of the people infected. Queen Mary II of England was a Smallpox victim. Those who did survive the disease were left with “pus-filled lesions” and deep scarring.

What do you think about the misplaced Smallpox virus vials?

[Images Via: Wikimedia Commons]