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Mail Order Virus

Is it just me, or does this seem like a bad idea?

ATLANTA — Federal scientists say they will consider requests to ship the recently recreated 1918 killer flu virus to select U.S. research labs.

There are 300 non-government research labs registered to work with deadly germs like the Spanish flu, which killed millions of people worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consider requests for samples from those labs “on a case-by-case basis,” CDC spokesman Von Roebuck said Wednesday.

Dangerous biological agents are routinely shipped through commercial carriers like FedEx or DHL, following government packaging, safety and security guidelines.

Right. But that doesn’t prevent accidents like this:

Last month, a FedEx truck carrying five boxes of samples of anthrax, flu, tuberculosis, salmonella and E. coli collided with a car in Winnipeg. None of the dangerous germs escaped.

In 2003, a FedEx package containing West Nile virus exploded at the Port Columbus International Airport in Ohio. Firefighters suspected dry ice caused it to burst open. No one was injured, but 50 workers had to be evacuated.

Or the debacle this spring where 4,000 influenza test kits were shipped around the world, a couple of which went missing in spite of “government packaging, safety and security guidelines.” And then there’s the risk of infected lab rats escaping–which happened in September, when mice carrying bubonic plague broke out of a lab in New Jersey.

Picture a toddler playing with a loaded gun. Yes, I understand the value of research–but I also have some experience with shipping things by courier. Sending the deadliest disease in history through the hands of hourly wage employees in unsecure trucks next to common overnight letters is a recipe for a Stephen King novel.

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