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Oops: UTMB Misplaces a Vial of Deadly Virus

If only UTMB had The Andromeda Strain's space-age equipment.
If only UTMB had The Andromeda Strain's space-age equipment.

The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston is proud to be the home of many highly infectious, very deadly viruses and other potential weapons of biological mass destruction.

And that's just in the break-room fridge!!! (Ha! Kidding.)

Part of the job of keeping such things around the premises, of course, is you're expected to make sure such things do, indeed, keep around the premises.

We've all seen movies where hazmat-suited stars go through an endless series of security measures to get to one of these rare and dangerous vials.

On the other hand, maybe the folks at UTMB haven't seen those movies, because, it seems, they've lost one of those dangerous little vials.

"Lost" is maybe too harsh a word; let's say they "misplaced" the (potentially incredibly deadly) vial, and as soon as Larry from Accounts Receivable cleans up his cubicle it will be found and returned to its rightful place. (Oh, that Larry.)

But for now UTMB President David Callender issued what's being called "a global message to employees regarding a vial of Galveston National Laboratory research material that is unaccounted for. "

"Unaccounted for" !! It's an accounting problem, people! Settle down!

The missing vial contained less than a quarter of a teaspoon of Guanarito and "had been stored in a locked freezer within a secure laboratory designed and approved to handle this kind of biological material safely (Biosafety Level 4)," Callender said.

Guanarito has been causing trouble in Venezuela. According to a medical Web site, its symptoms include:

Malaise Fever Convulsions Muscle aching Vomiting Diarrhea Cough Abdominal pain Hemorrhage

Which doesn't sound like fun. We'd hate for terrorists to get their hands on something that can cause "malaise" -- they could walk right in and take over the ennui-filled country, dammit.

UTMB says a routine inspection revealed the missing vial, and they suspect it was destroyed during a routine decontamination procedure.

 

And Callender said there's really nothing to worry about; move on, nothing to see here, people:

[Guanarito] is not known to be transmitted from person-to-person and therefore poses no appreciable public health risk. It is native only to Venezuela and can cause hemorrhagic fever. In the limited area of Venezuela where the virus is found, it is transmitted only by rodents native to the area and is not believed to be capable of surviving naturally in rodents in the United States.

Then again, we all remember what the Mayor said in Jaws:

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