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Vial of Potentially Deadly Guanarito Virus Missing from Galveston National Laboratory

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

A vial of a Venezuelan virus that can cause hemorrhagic fever and death has gone missing from a university laboratory in Texas.

CBS news reports that staff at the Galveston National Laboratory, which is operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch, noticed a vial of Guanarito virus was missing during a routine inspection on March 20-21. The vial had been locked away in a freezer in a secure laboratory, and university officials stated that there was no breach in security. They believe the missing vial may have been destroyed during cleaning; an investigation is underway. Lab director Scott Weaver said the virus may have also stuck to a glove or fallen on the floor.

Guanarito virus, which is native to Venezuela, is transmitted solely through contact with infected Venezuelan rats. Scientists do not believe the virus can be transmitted through or survive in North American rodents, nor can it be passed from person to person. However, the emerging disease has caused deadly outbreaks in Venezuela and the US government has prioritized the virus for research due to its potential to be weaponized.

“The only way it could pose a risk is if it were stolen and that is unlikely,” Weaver told the Houston Chronicle.

Symptoms of Guanarito virus include: malaise, fever, convulsions, muscle aches, diarrhea, coughing, abdominal pain and hemorrhaging. Death from Venezuelan Hemorrhagic Fever occurs in about a third of those infected. According to Stanford University, there are no specific retroviral drugs to treat the virus, although ribivirin has been suggested. Current treatment consists of passive antibody therapy and controls for fluid, electrolyte and osmatic imbalances.

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