Lifestyle & Belief

Deadly Venezuelan virus goes missing from Texas lab


Megavirus particle.


Chantal Abergel

A vial containing a deadly virus from Venezuela that can cause hemorrhagic fever has gone missing from a Texas lab.

The University of Texas Medical Branch said Saturday that no breach of security occurred in its Galveston National Laboratory and there was no indication of wrongdoing. Officials said there is no reason to believe there is a threat to the public.

In a statement, university president Dr. David L. Callender said doctors were unable to account for one vial of the virus, called Guanarito, during a routine inspection on March 20 and 21. It had been stored in a locked freezer inside a secure laboratory.

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"This is clearly an incident that is very discomforting and embarrassing to the University of Texas Medical Center and their national biosecurity lab that they have there," Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., told ABC News. "You can be sure there are a lot of sweating people down the chain at that institution."

The Galveston lab's scientific director, Scott Weaver, said that, as required by law, the incident was immediately reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC officials agreed that it was "extremely unlikely" the virus was stolen.

The University of Texas Medical Branch said the Venezuelan virus is only transmitted through contact with rats native to Venezuela, and is not believed to be able to survive in US rodents or to be transmitted person-to-person.