Explosion, fire rip Russian research facility housing smallpox, Ebola
An explosion started a fire at a Russian research center that houses smallpox and Ebola, blowing out glass windows and inflicting third-degree burns on one worker, although state-run media said that there is no danger to the general population.
The State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, also known as the Vector Institute, is one of only two places in the world that still houses the smallpox virus, after the WHO declared the disease eradicated in 1980. The other is — somewhat controversially — the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.
Although there is no indication yet that independent media have confirmed the report that the area around the facility, Koltsovo city in Siberia, remains safe, the state agency TASS said there were no biohazards in the part of the center affected by the explosion.
Vector has a reputation as a top-of-the-line research institution for epidemiology and just completed trials for an Ebola vaccine but has seen its fair share of controversy. In 1994, a high-ranking Soviet bioweapons official who defected to the United States said the country’s smallpox samples had been moved there for research into biowarfare. And in 2004, a Russian scientist died thereafter sticking herself with an Ebola needle. The New York Times found that the incident was not immediately reported, preventing her from getting treatment.
Estimates vary, but smallpox took up to 500 million lives in the 20th century before its eradication.
The news comes one month after an explosion in another facility in northern Russia killed five nuclear scientists.