Here we present another current scenario with regard to biosecurity. This time the scenario is based on a recently published article about orphan material. For the protection of biological high-risk material, it is important that the organization has an up-to-date overview of the current research and all high-risk pathogens that are present. This sounds like an open door, but apparently this still sometimes goes wrong. What is the chance that somewhere in your organization there are still some samples in a freezer that everyone has already forgotten?

The scenario: Orphan material in the freezer

Several vials labeled "smallpox" were recently found at a vaccine research facility in Pennsylvania, USA. The frozen vials labeled "smallpox" were accidentally discovered by a lab worker while cleaning a freezer. The news was released in November by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is still investigating the incident. It's not the first time something like this has happened. In 2014, National Institute of Health (NIH) employees found six vials of smallpox in an unused storage facility while clearing and packing a lab on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, US, for a move. Two of the vials were found to contain viable virus.

Risks and action perspective

Smallpox, also known as variola, was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1980 after a global vaccination effort. Before that, the virus infected 15 million people a year and killed about 30% of them. Most routine smallpox vaccinations were discontinued in 1972. Samples of live smallpox virus could deliberately create a new pandemic.

If there is no current overview of the pathogens present in an organization, the theft of biological material can go unnoticed. Also, no current information can be provided in the event of a calamity.

So provide an up-to-date overview that describes where materials with high-risk pathogens are in use or in storage and who is responsible. Registration and management can take place in various ways, for example by using an electronic 'Laboratory Information Management System' (LIMS). It is important that a registration and management overview can only be accessed, managed and checked by people who are authorized to do so

Share your scenario

Would you like to discuss further with the Biosecurity Office about how to deal with this scenario, do not hesitate to contact us. If you encounter a biosecurity scenario that you would like to share with colleagues, let us know! The Biosecurity Office can be reached via