Scientists cleaning out an old laboratory on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., last week came across a startling discovery: vials labeled "variola" — in other words, smallpox.
Under international convention, there are supposed to be only two stashes of this deadly virus: one at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and another at a similar facility in Russia.
The CDC swooped in to collect the vials and carted them off to a secure lab at its Atlanta headquarters.
In a statement Tuesday, the agency said scientists did indeed find smallpox DNA in the vials. Scientists are now testing the sample to see whether any of the is still capable of causing disease. That testing will take two weeks.
The laboratory on the NIH campus had been transferred to the Food and Drug Administration in 1972. It was being cleaned out as the FDA was preparing to move that lab to its main campus.