Killer virus sent worldwide

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning to 3,747 laboratories in the United States and 17 other countries around the world, instructing them to destroy samples of the deadly H2N2 Asian influenza virus that was mistakenly sent to them last fall by the College of American Pathologists, US company Meridian Bioscience and several other organizations responsible for testing laboratory proficiency worldwide, as soon as possible.

The H2N2 flu strain killed between 1 million and 4 million people in 1957 and is thought to have become extinct in the wild in 1968. The WHO stated that the virus strain should never have been circulated, because of the risk that it could cause a pandemic among people born after 1968, who would probably have little or no immunity to it, as the strain is not contained in current flu vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is operating under the presumption that the H2N2 strain was purposefully dispatched. Officials of both organizations have assigned a low but real risk to the possibility of an outbreak. No-one has actually become infected.

According to WHO, the virus was sent to laboratories in Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. Meridian executives were unavailable for comment.