A GAS explosion and ensuing fire has ripped through a Russian laboratory where highly infectious viruses are stored.
The State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology has said a cylinder exploded in a lab, which is one of two places in the world housing the smallpox.
Other highly lethal diseases that are stored there include Bubonic Plague, Anthrax and Ebola.
Located in Koltsovo, in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia, the site is thought to be where biological weapons have been made.
Frefighter and rescue teams responded to the explosion before it was realised what the possible implications could be.
Russian media have reported that the “the situation was quickly upgraded from an ordinary emergency to a major incident”.
Following the blast, one worker was left with third degree burns.
What is smallpox?
During the 20th century it was responsible for 300-400 million deaths and in 1967 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that around 15 million people had the disease and two million died in that year.
Fortunately after various vaccination campaigns during the 19th and 20th centuries, smallpox was considered to be globally eradicated in 1979 by the WHO.
But, now scientists are concerned the disease may be making a comeback because climate change is rapidly thawing the permafrost where the infected bodies are buried.
During the 1890s, a major epidemic of smallpox broke out in a small Siberian town near the Kolyma River in Russia.
The disease killed up to 40 per cent of the population and the bodies were buried in soil near the river, but now the water is thawing the banks three times faster than usual and the infected bodies are becoming exposed.
The last person to die from smallpox was a woman named Janet Parker.
The 40-year-old medical photographer from Birmingham died on September 11, 1978 – exactly one month after she started feeling unwell.
Within days, she developed unsightly red spots on her back, limbs and face, but when a doctor was called, she was told she had chickenpox.
The plant is called Vector and is one of two places in the world, where the smallpox disease is stored.
The other place is at a high-security laboratory which is called the US centre for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The facilities head is said to have denied that any of the diseases kept in the labs have been released into the outside world.
More to follow…
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