Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Maybe Howard Hughes Was Onto Something 

Don't touch that vial!
A dangerous strain of the flu virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 1957 was sent to thousands of laboratories in the United States and around the world, triggering a frantic effort to destroy the samples to prevent an outbreak, health officials revealed yesterday.

Because the virus is easily transmitted from person to person and many people have no immunity to it, the discovery has raised alarm that it could cause another deadly pandemic if a laboratory worker became infected, officials said.

As a result, health authorities were urgently working to make sure all samples are destroyed and to closely monitor anyone who may have come into contact with the virus for signs of illness, officials said . . . .

The virus, known as an H2N2 strain, killed 1 million to 4 million people worldwide in 1957 and 1958, including about 70,000 in the United States. Because the virus has not circulated in the wild since 1968, anyone born after that would have no natural immunity to it. Since then, the virus has been kept only in high-security biological laboratories.

The problem arose when a private company, Meridian Bioscience Inc. of Cincinnati, sent a panel of virus samples to about 3,700 laboratories, some in doctors' offices, to be tested as part of routine quality-control certification conducted by the College of American Pathologists. An additional 2,750 laboratories, all in the United States, received the samples as part of other certification processes and were asked to destroy them, CDC spokesman Dan Rutz said.

The panel samples usually include only strains of the flu virus that are relatively benign, Stohr said. "We would consider this an unwise and unfortunate decision," he said.
UPDATE (via our stalwart colleagues at Cursor): From Dave Lindorff at CounterPunch:
And how was this accidental terror "device" detected?

Not by the alert folks at Tom Ridge's or Mike Chertoff's Homeland Security Department, but by an alert technician working for the "socialist health care system" in Manitoba, Canada, who tested the virus in the kit and determined that it was the same strain of flu virus that caused a worldwide flu pandemic in 1957 and who immediately alerted the World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

The alert Canadian lab detected and identified the virus sample on March 25, but thousands of the samples have been shipped over the past six months.

I should note that this WHO, which so efficiently set about notifying labs in the 16 countries that had received shipments of the kits containing the deadly flu strain, is the same WHO that has been regularly criticized--and had its funding threatened--by the fundamentalist, anti-abortionist Bush White House and the Schiavo-obsessed Republican-led Congress.

If it were up to the Homeland Security folks to look out for our health and safety, the dreaded H2N2 Asian flu virus strain unleashed by Newtown, Ohio-based Meridian Bioscience Inc.'s error might be spreading around the globe already, infecting and killing millions.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us