Vial of Deadly Virus Missing from Texas University Campus

Posted By Urban News Hour | March 26, 2013

A vial containing a potentially deadly strain of Guanarito virus, which can infect rodents and then be transferred to humans, has disappeared from a laboratory at the University of Texas.

Officials at the UT’s Medical Branch in Galveston reported last week the vial had been locked inside a bio-hazard freezer within the UTMB campus. Officials are now notifying the public as a precaution. The vial had been locked inside a bio-hazard freezer within the UTMB campus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was immediately contacted after campus laboratory officials realized one of the five stored vials was missing.

The Texas facility said it does not currently believe the vial was stolen during a break-in or some other type of security breach, but assume instead the container was probably misplaced.

Officials said they also think the virus was destroyed during the laboratory’s normal decontamination and cleaning process, but that they will continue to investigate, just to make sure.

The strain of Guanarito virus contained in the vial was first identified in 1989 and was responsible for Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, prevalent from 1989 to 2006 in rural areas of central Venezuela, where 618 cases of the disease were reported.

Guanarito virus is spread through inhaling tiny droplets of saliva, urine, respiratory secretions and blood from infected rodents carried in the air.

But, the most common natural hosts for the virus are short-tailed cane mice.

Guanarito virus is one of the diseases derived from the family of arenaviruses, which can vary in severity. All types of viral hemorrhagic fevers are characterized by fever and bleeding disorders and can also progress to higher fever, shock and even death. There have also been cases of milder symptoms.

Health experts assert the virus typically does not pose a great risk to the general public, since it is rare for it to pass between humans.

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