3 vials of a dangerous virus are missing from Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command agents who are investigating the incident say that they have found no evidence of any criminal activity.
The vials contain samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a virus that sickens horses and can be spread to humans by mosquitoes. Most humans that come down with the virus have flu-like symptoms. In 1 out of every 100 cases though the virus is lethal. The disease has a vaccine and there has not been an outbreak since 1971 in the United States.
The missing vials had been among thousands that were under the control of a senior scientist who retired 5 years ago. They were discovered missing when another Fort Detrick scientist recently inventoried the biological samples. The records of the missing vials were part of an inventory that were hand written.
Several years ago a freezer full of biological samples at the lab broke down and all of the samples were safely disposed of. At that time a complete inventory of those samples was not taken. There is a strong chance that the missing vials were in that freezer according to lab spokesperson Caree Vander Linden.
The retired scientist and another former Fort Detrick researcher worked with the agents investigating the missing vials.
Free Internet Press reports that the scientist, Alan Schmaljohn, now a professor at the University of Maryland had been questioned about the vials.
“They caught me on my cellphone on the road, and I stopped and talked to them for quite a long time,” Schmaljohn said in an interview. “She was just going down this whole list of questions, including, ‘Did you take it?'”
“The number of vials is utterly meaningless,” said Schmaljohn. “Three vials missing is no indication of any evildoing. … It’s almost equivalent to saying you’re missing 3 cents out of the national budget. …
“From the scientist’s point of view, it is inconsequential, but from the regulator’s point of view, it is an indication of sloppiness, and they are finally going to take rugged action.”
The investigation is in its final stages and should be closed soon.
The lab is the same one that the Federal Bureau of Investigation implicated former USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks.