Almost all killer flu bug kits destroyed

99 percent of the kits containing a killer flu bug that mistakenly ended up in thousands of laboratories around the world, sparking fears of a pandemic, have been destroyed, according to top U.S. health official Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Health officials in the United States and 17 other nations have been trying desperately to account for the proficiency kits, which were sent to 3,700 laboratories and centres as part of routine testing of laboratories' ability to detect strains. The kits contained samples of H2N2 flu virus, which killed between one and four million people in 1957, and most have been safely disposed of as medical waste.

Gerberding says there are no reports of anybody being infected by the virus, which has not been in circulation since 1968. Few people are believed to have immunity against this flu bug and they will continue to work until every one of the proficiency tests is accounted for.

Harsh criticism has been directed at the U.S. College of American Pathologists (CAP) for their decision to use the "Asian" flu virus in the testing because of concerns that it could trigger a pandemic if it escaped from the laboratories. Gerberding says the threat to laboratory workers or the public continues to be low.

How the decision was made to start sending out the samples last October is being investigated by U.S. health officials.The order to destroy them went out earlier this month after a Canadian laboratory sounded the alarm.

The CDC and the U.S. National Institutes of Health will recommend that these potentially devastating H2N2 influenza strains be handled at a more stringent biosafety level and that additional measures are taken with regard to proficiency testing.

The Atlanta-based CDC also announced its reorganization which it says should lead to better cooperation among its own scientists and with its partners. Four new coordinating centres will be established to oversee environmental health and injury prevention, health promotion, infectious diseases, and health information and services will be established as part of that reorganization.

Two national centres will also be created to develop messages to help Americans make health decisions and to apply computer and information sciences to achieve public health goals.

Gerberding says Congress has approved the changes and given the CDC flexibility to fund the new structure, Gerberding said.

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