WASHINGTON, July 16 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday that federal investigators have found more than 300 vials containing biological agents in a long-forgotten storage room in one of its labs, where vials of live smallpox were also discovered earlier.
The FDA said in a statement the July 1 discovery in its lab, located at a campus of the National Institutes of Health, actually included "12 boxes containing a total of 327 carefully packaged vials labeled with names of various biological agents such as dengue, influenza, Q fever, and rickettsia."
Of these vials, six labeled "variola," commonly known as smallpox, along with ten other samples "with unclear labeling," were transported safely and securely in a government aircraft to a high-containment facility in Atlanta in the state of Georgia, the U.S. regulator said.
At least two of the six smallpox samples have already been tested and were still viable, U.S. health officials have said.
Thirty-two other samples were destroyed at the NIH facility, including 28 labeled as normal tissue and four labeled as " vaccinia," the virus used to make the smallpox vaccine, the FDA said.
The remaining 279 biological samples have been transferred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Bioforensic Analysis Center for safeguarding, it said.
"While an investigation continues regarding the origin of these samples, this collection was most likely assembled between 1946 and 1964 when standards for work with and storage of biological specimens were very different from those used today," the FDA said. "All of the items labeled as infectious agents found in the collection of samples were stored in glass, heat-sealed vials that were well-packed, intact, and free of any leakage, and there is no evidence that anyone was exposed to these agents."
The FDA stressed that overlooking such a sample collection "is clearly unacceptable" and that it has begun a thorough review of all common cold storage spaces.
"The agency is in the process of reviewing its policies and procedures in order to implement a corrective action plan so that potentially hazardous samples are never overlooked in the future," it added.
The FDA statement came hours after Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified about several recent lab safety lapses involving smallpox and other pathogens at a congressional hearing.
"These incidents should never have happened, and the lack of adequate procedures and oversight that allowed them to happen was totally unacceptable," Frieden said. "With the recent incidents, we recognize a pattern at CDC where we need to greatly improve the culture of safety, and I am overseeing sweeping measures to improve that culture of safety."