Flu alert as killer strain is sent to labs by mistake

A A A

Public health agencies around the world have been put on alert for an outbreak of lethal influenza after samples of the deadly virus were sent out mistakenly in testing kits.

Public health agencies around the world have been put on alert for an outbreak of lethal influenza after samples of the deadly virus were sent out mistakenly in testing kits.

The samples were of the strain of Asian flu which caused one of the three pandemics of the 20th century, killing between one and four million people in 1957.

They were sent to more than 3,700 laboratories in the US and Canada and 16 other countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. Klaus Stohr, an influenza expert at the World Health Organisation, warned that if the virus was not handled properly "it can easily cause an epidemic. If [it] were to infect one person it would spread very rapidly." Laboratories have been ordered to destroy all samples and monitor infections in laboratory workers closely.

The lethal strain was issued by the College of American Pathologists in the US, which routinely sends virus samples to laboratories around the world so they can test their ability to identify different strains correctly. The Asian flu samples were sent out last October and the alarm was first raised on 26 March by a laboratory in Canada which had received its consignment a month earlier.

The Canadian laboratory identified the sample as an influenza A virus of strain H2N2, similar to the one which caused the 1957 pandemic, which caused 70,000 deaths in the US alone.

The H2N2 strain continued to cause annual epidemics until 1968, when it disappeared. So anyone now aged under 36 would be unlikely to have immunity. The strain is not in present flu vaccines.

The World Health Organisation, the US government and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta were alerted on 8 April. At the request of the US government, the College of American Pathologists asked all laboratories that had received samples of the H2N2 virus to destroy them. The request was made before the error was made public because of fears that the virus could be used in bio-terrorism. The H2N2 virus was classified as a level 2 hazard, indicating it was not considered especially dangerous. But the CDC said it had been considering upgrading the hazard level when it found the virus had been widely circulated.

The WHO said there had been no reports of infection among laboratory workers and that with the proper use of biological safety cabinets and protective clothing, the risk was low. "The risk for the general population is also considered low," it said.

But it added that there was no guarantee every sample could be traced and destroyed because some laboratories could have sent derivatives elsewhere. As a precaution, it recommended all samples issued by the College of American Pathologists, and not just those containing the H2N2 strain, be destroyed.

It said in a statement: "WHO further recommends that bio-safety procedures be reviewed for use on influenza viruses that have not circulated recently in humans and against which the majority of the population would have no protective immunity." The UK is not among the countries which subscribes to the service provided by the College of American Pathologists, and the Health Protection Agency said it was "highly unlikely" that UK laboratories had received the dangerous samples.

The full list of countries and areas where the virus was sent is: Bermuda; Belgium; Brazil; Canada; Chile; France; Germany; Hong Kong; Israel; Italy; Japan; Lebanon; Mexico; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; South Korea; Taiwan and the US.

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Arts and Entertainment
The first batch of coach and ticket packages has sold out for next year's Glastonbury
musicIt looks like you're going to have to be quick to get tickets this year
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Extras
indybest
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Application Support Engineer – 6 month FTC – West Sussex - £26k-£28k pro rata

£26000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Head of IT Change – West Sussex – Up to £60k DOE – Permanent

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Services Team Leader

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?