A vial containing a potentially harmful virus has gone missing from a laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, officials said.
The missing vial, which contains less than a quarter of a teaspoon an infectious disease, had been stored in a locked freezer, designed to handle biological material safely, within the Galveston National Laboratory on UTMB’s campus, officials said. During a routine internal inspection last week, UTMB officials realized one vial of a virus called Guanarito was not accounted for at the facility.
Scott Weaver, the laboratory’s scientific director, said Guanarito is an emerging disease that has caused deadly diseases in Venezuela. The federal government prioritizes it for research because it has the potential to be used a weapon for terrorists.
On Tuesday, an investigator discovered that only four out of five vials were stored of the virus in the grid system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified immediately.
According to the Center for Biosecurity, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the US’s resilience to major biological threats, the Guanarito virus is a member of the Arenaviridae group of hemorrhagic fever viruses (HFVs) referred to as the New World arenaviruses.
Continuing from their site:
HFVs as Biological Weapons
Some HFVs are considered to be a significant threat for use as biological weapons due to their potential for causing widespread illness and death. Because of their infectious properties, associated high rates of morbidity and mortality, and ease of person-to-person spread, Ebola, Marburg, Junin, Rift Valley fever, and yellow fever viruses have been deemed to pose a particularly serious threat, and in 1999 the HFVs were classified as category A bioweapons agents by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Several HFVs were reportedly developed as aerosol weapons in the past by some countries. An attack using an HFV as a biological weapon could affect both human and animal populations. Rift Valley fever virus, for example, which is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, can infect livestock, which, in turn, can infect more mosquitoes, widening the scope of an outbreak.