People do get forgetful, and mistakes do get made–but that does not seem to explain the “anomalies” (for lack of a better word) at the CDC Lab in Bethesda, Md.
Initial stories suggest 6 vials of smallpox was discovered in a cupboard -and it was from 1954,so there was probably no malice involved.
People often discover stuff in the back of the cupboard, don’t they ?
As the story develops, it is learned two of these 60-year old specimens “showed growth in tissue samples”….and it becomes apparent these “forgotten old specimens were being nurtured with some sort of growth medium—all along .
Why get excited, right ?
Smallpox is a virus that can “float” on air currents , moving infection from one person to another; and it is incredibly deadly.
Vaccination once kept it in check, but the practice of vaccinating for smallpox was deemed “unnecessary” about a generation ago, and it would be safe to say few are immune now.
That said, how could that serious an “oversight” have happened ?
Let’s take a quick look at the sort of “cupboard” biological specimens are stored in.
This is from Mayo Clinic.
Here is one example of the sort of “Bio-Safety” cabinet technicians and researchers use when studying , culturing, or otherwise manipulating dangerous biological materials:
In general, those who organize and maintain the samples are Technicians . Those who supervise their work are Lab Supervisors -who should have exceptional skills; because they have to please an eclectic group of Research Doctors-some of whom have organizational “juice” long after retirement. (Nobody tampers with “their” old projects ! These retirees now have private labs and offer lucrative employment to their “friends” back at the old shop–AND they have long memories for any slight or dispute !)
I’m going to hazard a guess here: The work with smallpox was supposed to end when the USA destroyed all but a tiny fraction of its smallpox and vaccine stocks; but Doctor GBOSH (GodlikeBenefactorSufferingHumanity) said (after we sort out the expletives) “I’ve worked so hard on this, and am so close to a breakthrough, I’m going to continue !”
So he did, and years passed without a breakthrough, and the project-which should have been destroyed-was “grandfathered” into continuing existence : becoming-in time-almost a hallowed tradition (that had to be kept secret, of course.)
There are other problems: one of which-the sending of live Anthrax to another researcher who only wanted the DNA of the batch,seems to have been caused by ignorance -possibly at Lab Supervisory level.
The Anthrax was treated chemically-but this is a bacillus that laughs at such attempts-and promptly changes to nearly-impregnable spore form when challenged. It is especially dangerous when in that form !
The correct procedure is to expose it to ionizing radiation .
There have been other errors at the CDC labs-some potentially very dangerous. One-the sending of “bird flu” contaminated with a very lethal human flu-was caught almost by accident.
I suspect there have been other “little errors” (such as the odd strain of pneumonia some folks I know -and I myself suffered.)
The Director of CDC has promised a full investigation –and I sincerely hope he kicks butts and takes names —but there is a possibility he will be stymied by bureaucratic considerations : just as some of the most elite doctors have “juice” , some at the lower end of the scale have almost as much-in their own way.