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The following artile was published in the star online
Posted on 4/14/05

Asian nations destroy most vials of dangerous flu virus

TOKYO (AP) - Asian countries on Thursday moved quickly to eradicate their stocks of a deadly flu strain that was sent mistakenly by a U.S. company, with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong confirming that most vials had been destroyed. Health officials said there were no reports of infections.

The U.N. World Health Organisation recommended this week that labs in 18 countries holding samples of the H2N2 influenza strain properly dispose of them.

Meridian Bioscience Inc. of Newtown, Ohio, had mistakenly sent the virus strain to nearly 5,000 labs, mostly in the United States, after being asked by the College of American Pathologists to prepare quality-control kits for distribution.

By Thursday, 15 labs in Taiwan, two in Singapore and one in Hong Kong had destroyed the virus, officials said.

An official at South Korea's Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that all samples had been disposed of by Wednesday morning and that WHO had been notified, but wouldn't offer specifics about the labs.

In Japan, progress was slower. Five of nine Japanese labs said they had followed the Health Ministry's order Wednesday to dispose of the samples, and one was in the process of doing so.

The remaining three laboratories either refused to comment or were unable to comment immediately, and the Health Ministry gave them until Friday to finish.

Japanese Health Ministry official Mitsuya Maeda said the labs were told to use autoclaves, a pressurized steam sterilizer that is commonly used to kill infectious viruses and decontaminate biohazardous waste.

"This type of virus is vulnerable to heat and can be effectively killed in an autoclave,'' Maeda said.

All workers at the labs in Asia underwent medical checks and none had been infected, authorities said.

WHO also said it had received no reports of infections in lab workers.

Dr. Jared Schwartz, an officer with the College of American Pathologists, said Meridian thought it had sent an ordinary flu strain.

According to Meridian's process and evaluation they thought it was "an innocuous, typical influenza A virus, the kind of virus they've used before in our programs,'' Schwartz said.

The H2N2 strain, known as the "Asian flu'' virus, killed up to 4 million people in 1957.

It has not been included in flu vaccines since 1968, and anyone born after that date has little or no immunity to it.

WHO said Tuesday that the risks to the public were low. - AP

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