Brussels, 13 Apr 2005
Laboratories around the world have been destroying a potentially deadly influenza sample sent to them accidentally in testing kits.
The samples of Asian flu, which killed over one million people in 1957, were sent to over 3,700 laboratories in 18 countries between October 2004 and February of this year. The College of American Pathologists sent out the samples in testing kits, and has since, at the request of the US government, written to every laboratory asking them to destroy the samples.
On account of bioterrorism concerns, the letters were sent before the error was made public.
Although it cannot be guaranteed that every sample of the virus can be traced and destroyed, the World Health Organization (WHO) is confident that the risk to human health is minimal. 'The risk is considered to be low [...] but as long as this is out it is possible laboratory technicians can become infected,' Klaus Stohr from the WHO told the BBC.
Meanwhile Nobel laureate Peter Doherty has warned that a simultaneous epidemic of human bird flu could prove lethal. Avian flu has already killed many people who have come into contact with poultry in South East Asia. If the two viruses are allowed to mutate, a dangerous infection could spread rapidly through the human population, said Professor Doherty.
Conscious of the threat, governments have already begun to stockpile vaccines, while scientists are rushing to develop new vaccines effective against avian flu.