WASHINGTON (AP) — The same federal scientist who recently found forgotten samples of smallpox at a federal lab also uncovered over 300 additional vials, many bearing the names of highly contagious viruses and bacteria.
Food and Drug Administration officials said Wednesday the undocumented collection contained 327 carefully packaged vials, listing pathogens like dengue, influenza and rickettsia. Last week the government only disclosed that it had recovered six glass vials of smallpox dating from the 1950s.
The new revelations raise serious concerns about the government's ability to secure its collections of potentially deadly pathogens.
"The reasons why these samples went unnoticed for this long is something we're actively trying to understand," said FDA deputy director for biologics Dr. Peter Marks.
The samples, including those labeled smallpox, were found in 12 boxes in a corner of a cold storage room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration since 1972. FDA officials estimate the collection was assembled between 1946 and 1964 by government scientists.
"The fact that these materials were not discovered until now is unacceptable," said Karen Midthun, of FDA's director for biologics. "However, upon finding these materials our staff did the right thing — they immediately notified the appropriate authorities who secured the materials and determined there was no exposure."
FDA scientists said they have not yet confirmed whether the newly disclosed vials actually contained the pathogens listed on their labels. The agency is conducting a nationwide search of all cold storage units for any other missing samples.