Vial of easily weaponized virus goes missing in Texas

Published: Monday, March 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A virus went missing from a medical research facility in Texas, and officials worry that the virus could be turned into a weapon.

A virus that authorities worry could easily be weaponized as an aerosol went missing from a medical research facility in south Texas, an official at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston said Saturday.

About a quarter of a teaspoon of frozen viral material went missing last Wednesday, UTMB President David L. Callender explained in prepared text. The virus is an exotic strain from south America called Guanarito, which can cause a life-threatening condition that includes fever, convulsions and hemmhoraging.

The disease is usually spread to humans through rodent feces or urine, and a 2008 study published in the journal Virology found that it killed 23.1 percent of its 618 Venezuelan hosts between Sept. 1989 and Dec. 2006. It is not likely capable of spreading from human to human.

Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control considers Guanarito virus to be a Biosafety Level 4 risk, the most elevated level due to its potential to be weaponized by terrorists as an aerosol, and labs that store the material are held to rigorous safety standards.

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