From Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Missing vials of a potentially dangerous virus have prompted an Army investigation into the disappearance from a lab in Maryland.
Fort Detrick is the home of the Army's top biological research facility.
The Army's Criminal Investigation Command agents have been visiting Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, to investigate the disappearance of the vials. Christopher Grey, spokesman for the command, said this latest investigation has found "no evidence of criminal activity."
The vials contained samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a virus that sickens horses and can be spread to humans by mosquitoes. In 97 percent of cases, humans with the virus suffer flu-like symptoms, but it can be deadly in about 1 out of 100 cases, according to Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. There is an effective vaccine for the disease and there hasn't been an outbreak in the United States since 1971.
The vials had been at the research institute's facility at Fort Detrick, home of the Army's top biological research facility, for more than a decade. The three missing vials were among thousands of vials that were under the control of a senior scientist who retired in 2004. When another Fort Detrick scientist recently inventoried the retired scientist's biological samples, he discovered that the three vials of the virus were missing. The original scientist's records about his vials dated back to the days of paper-and-pen inventories.
During the investigation, the retired scientist and another former Fort Detrick researcher cooperated with investigating agents and, according to Vander Linden, they came back to the facility to help look for the vials.
Vander Linden said the investigators know that several years ago an entire freezer full of biological samples broke down and all the samples had to be safely destroyed. But a complete inventory of what was in the freezer was not done before the samples were destroyed. Vander Linden said there's a "strong possibility" the vials were in that freezer and destroyed, but that isn't known for sure.
This investigation comes two months after all research at the research institute facility at Fort Detrick was halted for a complete computer-based inventory of all disease samples at the fort. That inventory is expected to be complete before summer and may help solve the mystery of the three missing vials, officials said.
The Army investigation is in its final stages and is expected to be closed soon.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Virus Samples Missing from Army Lab
Three vials of a potentially dangerous virus have gone missing from a U.S. Army lab in Maryland. The vials contained samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, which sickens horses and can be spread to humans by mosquitoes. In 97 percent of cases, humans with the virus suffer flu-like symptoms but it can be deadly in about 1 out of 100 cases, according to Caree Vander Linden of the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
Posted by rcade at 10:35 PM
Twenty-one polo ponies die just before Florida equestrian event in Florida
From correspondents in Miami, Florida
April 21, 2009
Twenty-one polo ponies have died suddenly during a championship in Florida, with a toxin in feed, vitamins or supplements believed to have caused the deaths.
“It could be the water, hay, bedding, we just don't know. When we find out what it is, we will take all the necessary actions.” –John Wash The president of operations for the organising polo club speculates on the cause of death.
The horses from the Venezuelan-owned team Lechuza Caracas became ill just before a tournament match on Monday (EST), collapsing and dying at the scene or while being treated at veterinary clinics or transported, US Open polo championship officials said.
"This was devastating," said John Wash, president of operations for the tournament-organising International Polo Club Palm Beach, which hosts the championship every year.
"It was heartbreaking to see that many horses get sick all at once."
Tony Coppola, 62, an announcer for the International Polo Club Palm Beach said: "The players, the owners of the horses were in tears. Bystanders and volunteers were in tears. I mean, this was a very tragic thing.""
The match was delayed after the animals began to die one by one throughout the afternoon and overnight into Tuesday (EST).
Lechuza Caracas team veterinarian James Belden told the Palm Beach Post that the animals "almost certainly" were made ill by something they consumed.
"It could be the water, hay, bedding, we just don't know," John Walsh, president of operations for the polo club told the paper.
"When we find out what it is, we will take all the necessary actions."
Dr Scott Swerdlin, a veterinarian at Palm Beach Equine Clinic near the polo grounds, treated one of the sick horses.
Swerdlin said the animals appeared to have died died of heart failure caused by some kind of toxin that could have been in tainted food, vitamins or supplements, or by some combination of all three that caused a toxic reaction.
"A combination of something with an error in something that was given to these horses caused this toxic reaction," Swerdlin said, pending toxicology tests.
The 60-horse Lechuza Caracas team is owned by Venezuelan banker Victor Vargas, but most of the horses and players are from Argentina, The team travels around the world for much of each year.
The team has not spoken publicly since the deaths, but released a statement.
"This is tragic news," the stable said in the statement.
"We are deeply concerned about the death of our ponies. We have never encountered such a dire situation like this as our horses receive the most professional and dedicated care possible."
The stable said in the statement that they did not know the cause of the deaths but were helping with the investigation.
Swerdlin said the 21 dead horses together were worth as much as $US2 million ($A2.77 million).
"It would take 10 years to build that string back up," he said.
The International Polo Club, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that polo ponies were thoroughbreds that were often used in play into their mid-teens and were frequently rotated during a match.
Officials said they had ruled out airborne infections as the cause of the deaths, and the tournament would resume on Wednesday.
"This was an isolated incident involving that one team," Wash said.
The Lechuza team has withdrawn from the tournament.
ndra virus infects horses in Queensland
The Hendra Virus
Nicola Turner, EFA National Office, Friday, 11 July 2008
In recent days there have been three reported cases of horses infected with the Hendra virus at a veterinary clinic in Brisbane.
One horse has died and another horse was put down.
25 staff from the Brisbane Veterinary Clinic have been tested for the virus and are awaiting the results.
Hendra virus is not highly contagious, but if transmitted to horses and humans, can be lethal. Please contact your vet or the respective Dept. of Primary Industries if you observe suspicious symptoms, for example unusual behaviour, head tilt, and recumbence (leaning or lying down). For other possible symptoms, see also below.
Hendra Virus was first discovered in Hendra, Queensland, in September 1994 when horse trainer, Mr Vic Rail, his stablehand and most of his horses became ill. Mr. Rail and 14 horses died.
Further cases have occurred in Queensland in 1995, 1999 and 2004 and one case was reported in Northern NSW in 2007.
It was discovered to be a completely new virus, which seems to be hosted by Fruit Bats, meaning that they carry the virus but are not affected by it.
Hendra virus does not cause clinical disease in fruit bats, but if transmitted to horses it can cause serious illness, including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, fever, elevated heart rate and death. The four humans known to have been infected with Hendra virus were apparently infected after exposure to large amounts of virus that had been amplified in infected horses. There have been no other documented cases of human infection in Australia.
According to the Qld DPI website:
The Clinical Symptoms in previous outbreaks have been:
· respiratory distress
· frothy nasal discharge
· elevated body temperature (above 40°C)
· elevated heart rate (increased to around 90 or 100 beats/minute).
In addition to those listed above, other signs that increase the likelihood of the virus being present are:
· facial oedema
· terminal bloody nasal discharge
· neurological signs - two horses that recovered had mild neurological signs, including muscle twitching. (Neurological signs may be due to either encephalitis or vascular infarcts in the brain.)
Although the virus is not very contagious, it is important that any cases are rapidly diagnosed and that adequate precautions are taken to avoid contact between infected animals and susceptible animals and humans.
Hendra virus (HeV) causes a broad range of clinical signs in horses. Hence many conditions could be regarded as 'possible' and require HeV exclusion. However, it is clear that HeV in the horse is a rare occurrence.
It is known that close contact with HeV-infected body fluids, particularly blood and thoracic fluid from an infected horse can cause infection in humans.
Groundbreaking CSIRO research into how the deadly Hendra virus spreads promises to save the lives of both horses and humans in the future.
CSIRO Livestock Industries' scientists working at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), in Geelong Victoria, have made a major breakthrough in better understanding how Hendra spreads from infected horses to other horses and humans.
Funded by the Australian Biosecurity CRC for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Dr Deb Middleton and her team at AAHL have defined the period following the first signs of disease when horses are most likely to shed Hendra virus and therefore infect other horses and people.
First identified in Brisbane in 1994, Hendra virus, which spreads from flying foxes, has regularly infected horses in Australia. Of the 11 equine outbreaks, four have led to human infection, with three of the six known human cases being fatal, the most recent of these in August 2008.
Dr Middleton says limited information in the past, on when the disease can transmit, has made it difficult to manage infected horses to stop Hendra spreading further to people and other susceptible horses.
"Our research has also determined the best biological samples required for rapid diagnosis of the virus in horses and identified the important relationship between the period of highest transmission risk and the time with which the disease can easily be detected," Dr Middleton says.
As a result of these findings, veterinarians and horse owners are likely to consider the possibility of Hendra virus infection sooner when dealing with sick horses. This will mean appropriate management strategies can be put in place immediately, reducing the risk of spread while testing is being carried out.
"Unlike in horse flu, where apparently healthy horses can transmit the virus, horses in the early stages of Hendra infection generally appear to be at lower risk compared to animals with more advanced signs of illness."
These research findings will be used to update the guidelines that horse owners and vets use to handle potential Hendra virus infections.
Dr Middleton says her research also indicates there is an opportunity to diagnose Hendra virus in horses early, prior to advanced clinical signs and the highest risk of transmission.
"Developing a sensitive and specific stall-side test, which vets could use out in the field to diagnose the disease, has become even more important. However there are still key challenges to developing this type of advanced technology."
Although it is still not known how Hendra spreads from flying foxes to horses, Dr Middleton says the key to preventing human exposure and the exposure of additional horses is first understanding the disease in horses and secondly controlling the viral spread from diseased horses.
All research for the project was undertaken within AAHL's high-biocontainment facility.