The United Nations' health agency says some two-thirds of 3,700 specimens of a deadly influenza virus, sent to 18 nations, have been destroyed. The strain, which was sent from an American company as part of routine test kits, was responsible for a flu pandemic in the late 1950s which killed upwards of four million people. However, health officials are still trying to find shipments that were supposed to be sent to two countries.
News that samples of a deadly flu strain called H-2-N-2 had been distributed worldwide set off fears of a flu pandemic. This strain is blamed for the 1957 Asian flu, which killed between one and four million people worldwide. Last October, a Cincinnati bioscience company began shipping samples of H-2-N-2, as part of an accreditation testing kit used by laboratories to show they can correctly identify flu viruses.
However, the potential danger and true identity of the virus went unnoticed until March 26th, when a Canadian lab identified it as a deadly strain not seen in humans since 1968. The bioscience company says it made a mistake. Labs around the world were immediately notified to destroy their samples.
Doctor Klaus Stohr of the World Health Organization said that, as of Friday, 10 of 18 countries had confirmed they had done so.
Doctor Stohr says, "For the international laboratories, we have requested the ministries of health to verify that this process was done in a way that everything is being destroyed."
However, the W-H-O is investigating the disappearance of samples that were supposed to be shipped to Mexico and Lebanon. The last samples of the virus were sent in February. Doctor Stohr says it is possible that boxes meant for Mexico and Lebanon were never sent, but says there is no definitive proof.
The U.S. agency responsible for classifying viruses, the Centers for Disease Control, had classified H-2-N-2 as a "level two" strain, meaning it was not considered dangerous. However, officials say the C-D-C was in the process of deciding whether to change that classification, when it learned the strain had been widely circulated.
Doctor Julie Gerberding, with the C-D-C says, "In the future we will be urgently recommending that a higher level of precaution be used for any novel flu virus."
Experts say the chances of another pandemic are slim, but say the virus could spread rapidly if even one person becomes infected.