Guanarito Virus Vial Missing From Galveston National Laboratory's Secure Facility

03/25/2013 02:02 pm ET | Updated Mar 25, 2013

Don't panic, but a vial of Guanarito virus, capable of causing hemorrhagic fever, has gone missing from a secure research lab in Galveston, Texas.

In a statement released March 23, University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) President David Callender explained "less than a quarter teaspoon" of the virus was unaccounted for from a locked freezer within a secure facility at the Galveston National Laboratory. A routine inspection on March 20 and 21 revealed the virus was missing.

"There was no breach in the facility’s security and there is no indication that any wrongdoing is involved," Callender added in the release. "It is likely, but not confirmed, that the vial was destroyed during normal laboratory sterilization practices."

The laboratory's scientific director, Scott Weaver, told The Houston Chronicle the vial may have become stuck to a glove and fallen onto the floor, where it would have been destroyed as a part of the lab's normal cleaning and decontamination process.

The vial, containing what is commonly referred to as Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, was stored in a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reserves for Biosafety Level 4 for "dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections."

According to Raw Story, the virus could potentially be weaponized as an aerosol spray, which explains the high degree of security surrounding its storage. Adults who contract this class of South American virus have a mortality rate as high as 33 percent.

Symptoms of hemorrhagic fever, like that caused by the Guanarito virus, include high fever, fatigue, and bleeding from the body's mucous membranes, including the mouth, eyes, nose and anus.

Per the CDC, Guanarito virus is rarely spread from person to person; instead, humans typically contract the virus through contact with secretions from infected rodents native only to Venezuela. As such, the loss is unlikely to pose a health risk in the United States.

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