Health Officials Team To Destroy Flu Strain Shipped Worldwide
Health officials on Tuesday began "scrambling" to prevent the possibility of an influenza outbreak after a strain of the 1957 H2N2 "Asian flu" was shipped to thousands of laboratories worldwide, the AP/Hartford Courant reports (Ross/Marchione, AP/Hartford Courant, 4/13). The H2N2 flu strain killed 70,000 U.S. residents and one million to four million individuals worldwide in 1957 and 1958. The H2N2 flu strain has not circulated since 1968, and, as a result, individuals born after that time would have limited or no immunity.
The problem began when Ohio-based Meridian Bioscience sent a panel of virus samples that included the H2N2 flu strain to about 3,700 labs worldwide -- most of which were located in the United States -- for tests as part of routine quality certification conducted by the College of American Pathologists, CDC spokesperson Dan Rutz said. Meridian began to send the virus samples last fall, according to World Health Organization flu expert Klaus Stohr.
WHO, CDC and other health agencies have teamed to monitor the problem, Stohr said. He added that "the level of concern about this virus is very high" (Stein/Vedantam, Washington Post, 4/13). WHO officials on Tuesday said that the organization has received no reports of infections among lab workers related to the virus samples. Some of the labs outside of the United States have destroyed the virus samples, Stohr said, adding that WHO hopes to have the remainder of the samples destroyed by Friday. Stohr called the decision by Meridian to ship the H2N2 flu strain "unwise" and "unfortunate" (AP/Hartford Courant, 4/13).