UPDATE: The CDC reports at least two of the vials contain live smallpox.
Here's some not-so-reassuring news! Smallpox, just stored in a cardboard box and stuck in a corner somewhere? Not good:
Government workers cleaning out an old storage room at a research center in Bethesda made a startling discovery last week -- decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.
The six glass vials of freeze-dried virus were intact and sealed with melted glass, and the virus may well have been dead, because it wasn't kept cold over the years, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
Still, the find was disturbing because for decades after smallpox was declared eradicated in the 1980s, world health authorities believed the only samples left were safely stored in super-secure laboratories in Atlanta and in Russia.
Officials said this is the first time that unaccounted-for smallpox has been discovered.
It was the second recent incident in which a government health agency appeared to have mishandled a highly dangerous germ. Last month, a laboratory safety lapse at the CDC in Atlanta led the agency to give scores of employees antibiotics as a precaution against anthrax.
The smallpox virus samples were found in a building at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration since 1972, according to the CDC.
Officials said the vials may have been stored there since the 1950s -- no records were found that said exactly when they were placed there.
No one has been infected, and no smallpox contamination was found in the building.