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April 13, 2005


Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180


Technical contact: Mike Skeels (503) 229-5882


DHS update on distribution of H2N2 influenza virus

Health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) are contacting Oregon laboratories that may have received a potentially dangerous strain of influenza virus to ensure it is destroyed.


Samples of H2N2 influenza virus were sent out by private laboratory accrediting organizations as part of routine national programs to assess laboratory proficiency. The H2N2 virus has not been in circulation since 1968, and current flu vaccines do not protect against it, which means many people have no immunity against it.


"We know of 29 Oregon laboratories that have received one or more samples of the virus," said Michael Skeels, PhD, state public health laboratory director. "We are working through the list as quickly as we can. We've talked with 28 of the labs. Most have already destroyed their samples, as requested by federal authorities, and the rest will be doing so."


Skeels said it was initially thought that only one organization, the College of American Pathologists, was involved in sending the samples.


However, today the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that three other organizations have also sent out vials of H2N2 influenza to laboratories around the country. In total, the four organizations sent the virus to 6,400 laboratories.


Skeels said that Oregon's public health laboratory has contacted the three organizations--the American Association of Bioanalysts, the American College of Family Physicians and the American College of Physician Services--to obtain lists of other laboratories in Oregon that may have received the H2N2 virus.


"As soon as we know if--and where--additional samples of the virus have gone, we will start contacting those labs, too," he said.


DHS is requiring each laboratory that received the virus to provide documentation that it has destroyed the samples.


Skeels said the risk of exposure to a laboratory worker is small, and the risk to the general public is even smaller, but it is important to take prompt action to account for all of the H2N2 samples that were distributed and to ensure their destruction.