Lost Virus Vial Likely Destroyed, University President Says

The virus in the missing vial is Guanarito, and the UTMB president's letter claims it represents "no appreciable public health risk."

Dr. David L. Callender, president of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, alerted its stakeholders March 23 that a vial containing the Guanarito virus is missing, after a routine internal inspection for the previous two days. The virus is "not known to be transmitted from person-to-person and therefore poses no appreciable public health risk. It is native only to Venezuela and can cause hemorrhagic fever," he said in a letter posted on UTMB's website.

However, is it an arenavirus classified at biosafety level four by CDC, meaning it represents the greatest risk.

"During a routine internal inspection conducted on March 20 and 21, 2013, UTMB could not account for one vial of a select agent. The vial, containing less than a quarter of a teaspoon of material, had been stored in a locked freezer within a secure laboratory designed and approved to handle this kind of biological material safely (Biosafety Level 4). The virus in the vial is called Guanarito; it is not known to be transmitted from person-to-person and therefore poses no appreciable public health risk. It is native only to Venezuela and can cause hemorrhagic fever. In the limited area of Venezuela where the virus is found, it is transmitted only by rodents native to the area and is not believed to be capable of surviving naturally in rodents in the United States," his letter says. "This is the first time that any vial containing a select agent has been unaccounted for at UTMB. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified immediately, and UTMB simultaneously began a rigorous process to ensure the safety of its researchers, employees and the community. UTMB has confirmed that there was no breach in the facility's security and there is no indication that any wrongdoing is involved. The investigation continues, but at this time, it is likely, but not confirmed, that the vial was destroyed during normal laboratory sterilization practices. As per our normal procedures, we have also notified our Community Liaison Committee, which serves as an independent communication and oversight group for UTMB's high-containment research programs."

UTMB is a health science center with more than 2,500 students and is part of the University of Texas.

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