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Deadly Virus Sample Goes Missing From Texas Lab

Mar 25, 2013 10:56 AM EDT

A vial containing a virus which can cause deadly hemorrhagic fever has gone missing from a research facility in Galveston, Texas.

There is no reason to believe there is a threat to public health, according to officials at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where the vial went missing, the Associated Press reported.

The Guanarito arenavirus can cause Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever and is considered a "Category A Priority Pathogen" by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, putting the virus in the same category as anthrax, botulism and smallpox.

According to the NAID, Category A pathogens pose a high risk to national security and public health because they can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person, result in high mortality rates and have major public health impact, might cause panic and social disruption and require special action for public health preparedness.

The virus is native to Venezuela and can only be transmitted through contact with Venezuelan rats, the AP report states, citing university medical officials. It is not believed to be able to survive in U.S. rodents or transmittable from person-to-person, the AP reported.

Officials from the Galveston National Laboratory suspect the vial of Guanarito arenavirus was destroyed during a routine lab cleaning process, but it is still unaccounted for and an investigation continues.

There were no security breaches at the lab and there was no indication of wrongdoing, the AP reported.

Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever has a fatality rate of 30 percent in the Venezuelan states where it is endemic. Symptoms include fever, malaise, hemorrhagic manifestations and convulsions.

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