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Belgium on mailing list for global flu dispatch

Published on 13/04/2005

13 April 2005

BRUSSELS – Belgium is one of 18 countries that have been sent samples of a deadly flu virus by an American laboratory in error.

The samples of ‘Asian flu’ were sent to more than 3,700 laboratories in 18 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America.

The US government has told the laboratories to destroy the samples of the lethal virus that killed between one and four million people between 1957 and 1968.

The error has sparked concerns of a global health scare and bio-terrorism.

If the virus is not handled properly “it can easily cause an influenza epidemic”, Klaus Stohr of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned.

The full list of countries and areas where laboratories received affected is Bermuda, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.

All samples have already been destroyed in Hong Kong.

The virus is particularly dangerous for anyone born after 1968 as they will not have the antibodies to fight it and current vaccines do not immunise against it.

“If this virus were to infect one person, it would spread very rapidly,” Dr Stohr, the WHO’s influenza expert, told the BBC.

The rogue samples were sent out by the College of American Pathologists between October 2004 and February this year.

On 8 April, the US government asked the body to write to all the laboratories concerned before the news was made public.

Dr Stohr said the College of American Pathologists had not breached US laws, which are now being revised.

The virus – technically known as H2N2 – was classified as Biological Safety Level 2, which meant it was not considered particularly dangerous.

But the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was in the process of deciding whether to reclassify the strain before it found out it had been sent all over the globe.

There have been no reports of laboratory staff falling ill after handling the samples but the WHO has warned it is still possible technicians could become affected.

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news