Web Zap*Germs Archive

April 19, 2005

Deadly Flu Samples Distributed in Error, Now Being Destroyed

Instead of sending out samples of "fairly benign" germs to medical labs in order to test their procedures, last September a company called Meridian Biosciences accidentally distributed over 4,000 samples of a killer flu virus to 4,000 labs around the world. That flu, the H2N2 variety that killed over one million people in 1957-58, would kill again if loosed in the general population.

The error was only discovered when a Canadian lab's test on a woman turned positive and was forwarded to a more sophisticated lab for additional tests.
It is fortunate that the Canadian doctors noticed that a woman with no flu symptoms was testing positive for the disease and sent the sample on for sophisticated testing. Otherwise, no one would have known that H2N2 was at large, because standard medical labs have no test to detect it. The other way to discover it, scientists say, would be an actual outbreak.

The danger may have dissipated, but it's still unclear why H2N2 flu would have been in the test kits. The customs label on the sample that led to the Canadian discovery said it was H3N2, a fairly benign strain of regular flu.


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