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CDC Under Fire After Smallpox Vials Found

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Mike Schuh joined WJZ Eyewitness News as a general assignment reporter...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Under fire. Scrutiny intensifies at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in the wake of several security breaches involving potentially deadly diseases.

Mike Schuh reports now the director is issuing new orders for some of the agency’s top labs.

It was here in Maryland that several vials of smallpox were found in an unsecured storage room—and officials say that it was not an isolated incident.

The head of the CDC is now telling labs to stop transporting dangerous diseases as they reexamine security protocols.

The news raised eyebrows across the state of Maryland.

“I was surprised something like that would just be sitting around,” said NIH worker Mustafa Ghanen.

Vials of smallpox were found forgotten in a storage container at NIH in Bethesda.

“It’s shocking. We think of smallpox being limited to just two labs in the entire world,” said Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein.

But it doesn’t stop there. Food and Drug Administration officials say that collection includes another 300 carefully packaged vials.

“Undetected without anyone’s knowledge,” Ghanen said.

Filled with viruses like dengue fever and influenza.

“Dengue fever could kill the second time you get it,” said Dr. Michael Zimring, Director of Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center.

The embarrassing findings are just the latest that have the CDC under fire. In June, researchers transferred what they thought were non-infectious anthrax samples to labs not equipped to handle live bacteria, exposing dozens of workers to live anthrax.

“What we’re seeing is a pattern that we missed and the pattern is an insufficient culture of safety,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

In light of mishaps, the CDC’s director instructed its highest security labs to stop transferring out biological materials.

Some medical workers are criticizing the move, saying without CDC labs carefully sampling, some diseases could spread rapidly.

“I’m afraid with more mosquitoes, change in weather, we may get more of these diseases,” Zimring said.

CDC says 22 labs are under suspension and each ban will be removed individually, meaning there’s no telling how long it will take until they’re all fully operational again.

The head of the CDC tells lawmakers they’re taking every step possible to make sure nothing like this happens again.

An examination of the smallpox vials found in Bethesda showed some of the viruses were still active.

An ongoing investigation has revealed the health agency repeatedly failed to follow its safety protocols at several labs that handle dangerous specimens.

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