H2N2 flu virus samples all found, most destroyed

April 20, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Samples of a potentially lethal influenza virus that were inadvertently mailed to laboratories around the world have all been found, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

A sample of the influenza A(H2N2) virus that had been missing in Beirut was found at the airport, the Associated Press (AP) quoted WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng as saying today. "That will be destroyed soon," she said.

Cheng also said South Korean officials confirmed that they had destroyed all the samples they had received.

Samples of the H2N2 virus, which caused the flu pandemic of 1957-58, were mailed to laboratories in test kits used to check labs' ability to identify flu viruses.

By this afternoon, 98.8% of the 3,747 labs that had received H2N2 samples had destroyed them, a spokesman for the College of American Pathologists (CAP), which offers the proficiency testing, told CIDRAP News.

Starting last fall, samples were sent to 3,747 labs in 18 countries for a routine test that usually involves more benign flu strains. All but about 75 labs that received the samples are in the United States, according to earlier reports. Fourteen labs are in Canada and 61 are in other countries.

Canadian researchers discovered in March that the virus they had been sent was the same that emerged in 1957, prompting a call on April 12 for the samples to be destroyed. Most laboratories quickly complied with that WHO request, but a few samples were missing, which triggered an urgent search. Yesterday officials were still tracking down samples in Mexico, South Korea, and Lebanon.

The CAP had paid a private company, Meridian Bioscience Inc. of Cincinnati, to prepare and send the samples. Why Meridian used the H2N2 virus has not yet been fully explained.

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