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 May 13, 2005
Deadly Flu Virus Mistakenly Sent to Thousands of Labs
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WEDNESDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- An influenza virus estimated to have caused the deaths of more than 1 million people in 1957 was mistakenly sent to thousands of laboratories around the world during the past few months.

Scientists, health organizations and governments are now attempting to have the killer virus destroyed before any of it is released.

The World Health Organization reports that 3,747 labs in 18 countries received the virus, known as the H2N2 "Asian flu," in quality-control test kits sent by Meridian Bioscience Inc. of Cincinnati, which makes influenza test kits for medical facilities.

Almost all the labs were in the United States, but 75 kits also went to labs in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America, according to a WHO statement on its Website.

No cases of the 1957 flu strain have yet been reported anywhere, according to WHO. But the strain's inclusion in flu vaccines was discontinued in 1968, so anyone born after then would be particularly susceptible if exposed, according to WHO.

The problem first surfaced, according to WHO, when a Canadian testing lab detected the deadly virus. Canadian health officials notified WHO authorities on April 8.

The largest of groups receiving the test kits, the College of American Pathologists, told the wire service it had re-destributed them to laboratories throughout the United States late last year and into February.

How did Meridian come into possession such a deadly germ? According to the AP report, Dr. Jared Schwartz, an official with the pathology college, said Meridian took a sample from the college's stockpile and selected the 1957 virus. Schwartz said the pathology college had received the strain from a "germ library" in 2000.

As frightening as the mistake appears to be, government health officials said the risk for an outbreak is slight.

Dr. Nancy Cox, chief of the influenza branch at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said that most of the samples were being incinerated, and that she didn't expect any bioterorism attempts.

"It wouldn't be a smart way to start a pandemic to send it to laboratories, because we have people well trained in biocontainment," she told the AP.

In addition to the United States and Canada, test kits were sent to labs in Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Taiwan.

More information

The World Health Organization (www.who.int ) has the latest information on the deadly virus.

-- HealthDay Staff

SOURCES: April 12, 2005, World Health Organization statement; Associated Press

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