Saturday, February 14, 2009

It all balances out in the long run....

Although I talked about this very issue on Friday I somehow missed the news this week that research at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick in Maryland has been suspended following the discovery of four undocumented vials of Venezuelan equine encephalitis. This is a zoonotic viral disease of horses, donkeys etc that can also affect humans. When the U.S. biological warfare program ended in 1969 Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus was one of seven biological weapons it had developed. I have not seen any reports on whether the additional samples are the 'regular' strain or the weaponized strain.

The shutdown, that could last three months, is intended to allow a complete inventory of hazardous bacteria, viruses and toxins stored in refrigerators, freezers and cabinets. The Commander, Col. John P. Skvorak, said there was a high probability that some germs and toxins in storage were not in the database. Whilst this doesn't appear as serious as losing vials, the issue of lax record keeping is worrying. The danger with undocumented samples is that anyone with access could walk out with them and no-one would know they were gone.

Army officials insist there are no missing vials of lethal substances and no danger to the public - but if you don't know what you have how do you know what is missing? What the army should say is that there are no missing samples from their inventory and that their inventory includes x% of all samples - determined after an exhaustive search. New procedures should then be put in place to ensure that all samples are, in future, included in an inventory.

1 comment:

Rachel Jones said...

Wow, it's really scary to think that our country has vials of who-knows-what that go undocumented.