BEIRUT: Samples of a deadly flu virus sent by the College of American Pathologists to more than 3,700 laboratories around the world appear to have gone missing on their way to Lebanon and Mexico, according to the World Health Organization on Friday.
"(Some of the countries) were on the address list of the college but never received anything. We were given to understand the material was shipped but it never arrived in Lebanon, Mexico," WHO chief flu expert Klaus Stohr told journalists, adding, "There is still a possibility this material was never sent, but there is no confirmation."
But, according to outgoing Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh, "No sample has ever entered the country. Nothing was received at the airport, nor the labs or the Health Ministry."
The minister added that, upon receiving the WHO alert, the ministry took immediate measures and a tracing operation was now under way.
Khalifeh said: "What happens is that the WHO sends viruses to specific laboratories around the world for certification, and only two labs in Lebanon are able to receive and culture such viruses, the Hotel Dieu and the American University Hospital. The trace went back seven or eight months showing that nothing came in."
WHO institutes, which have already tested the viruses, often send virus samples to labs around the world to ensure
they attain correct results in recognizing a pathogen by selecting certain types of viruses before certifying the institutions.
According to Khalifeh, "There is nothing to panic about. And anyway the public would not be in contact with the virus. The first to be worried is the nurse or the doctor in charge; they would be the first contaminated."
So far, laboratories in 12 out of 18 countries that had unexpectedly received samples containing the H2N2 "Asian" flu from CAP have destroyed them, according to WHO. The H2N2 strain is similar to the 1957 flu virus that killed up to four million people around the world.
But Stohr played down the risks, saying the samples swiftly deteriorate on exposure to room temperatures, water or sunlight. - Agencies