Officials say laboratory tests revealed that five vials labeled “smallpox” actually contained vaccine, the virus used in the smallpox vaccine.
The viruses were found earlier this week when a laboratory worker cleaned a freezer at the Merck facility located in North Wales, Pa.
The Pennsylvania Health Department said there were 15 questionable vials: five were labeled “smallpox” and 10 were labeled “vaccinia.”
“The freezer facility was immediately secured and personnel followed standard protocols for notifying CDC of such a possible discovery. The vials were sent safely to CDC for testing on November 18 to determine what they contained. No one was exposed to contents of the vials, said federal officials.
The CDC is in close contact with state and local health officials, police, and the World Health Organization about these findings.
Smallpox, also known as smallpox, was declared extinct in 1980 by the World Health Organization after coordinated global vaccination. Prior to that, the virus, which spreads easily from person to person, infected 15 million people a year and killed about 30% of them. The last known outbreak in the United States was in 1947.
Currently, there are only two places in the world where the virus is stored: at the CDC in Atlanta and in Russia at their version of the CDC.
In 2014, employees of the National Institutes of Health found six vials of smallpox in an unused warehouse when they packed a lab at the NIH’s Bethesda, Maryland campus to move it. Two of the vials contained a viable virus. The CDC said at the time that there was no evidence that anyone had been exposed to the contents of any of the vials.
Governments quarreled over whether to keep samples of the virus or destroy all known copies. Most routine vaccination stopped in 1972 but military personnel and some researchers are still vaccinated.
CNN contributed to this report.
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