Government workers at a research center in Bethesda, Md. found a shocking surprise July 1 while cleaning out a closet: old vials of smallpox.
NBC Washington reports the workers were cleaning out a closet when six vials of the freeze-dried virus were found. Authorities believed the only samples still remaining on the planet were in laboratories in Russia and Atlanta. Officials told NBC this is the first instance of lost smallpox samples being recovered.
“At the end of the day, we don’t know why [the vials] showed up,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesman Tom Skinner told ABC News.
No contamination was found in the building and the samples are not believed to pose any threat and are likely dead after decades of being unrefrigerated. The samples were quickly taken to the CDC.
Officials from both Russia and the U.S. debated whether or not to destroy the last remaining known samples in 2011, as the virus was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980. The last known case of infection was in Britain in 1978 when a man working above a lab handling the virus was accidentally exposed.
The member countries of the WHO voted earlier this year to not destroy the samples.