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Smallpox in a cardboard box

By Celia Rivenbark

So you think you keep a messy house? You have trouble letting go of things? You find yourself relating to those pathetic hoarders on TV who can’t throw out old clothes, broken appliances or even the mouse poo behind the fridge?

Well, worry no more. Because no matter how much stuff you have in your garage, attic or shed, you will never be as bad as the folks at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where a little housekeeping last week uncovered a scary supply of vials filled with smallpox virus that had been “packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box” back in the 1950s.

OK, first of all: cardboard box? Couldn’t somebody run over to the Walmart and buy a plastic box with a lid for eight bucks?

Think of it: Smallpox sitting around since the Don Draper days in a box made of paper. I'll bet you don’t feel nearly so bad now about the stuff you haven’t tossed … the “Big Mouth Billy Bass” wall plaques, songbird wall clocks and all those oddly damp Beanie Babies.

Nope. When they do a little tidying up at the lab in D.C., they find smallpox.

“Things were pretty casual in the 1950s” said a doctor who worked with smallpox eradication back in the day, who said it’s not altogether impossible that they won’t discover more stashes.

The Food & Drug Administration has used the building where the smallpox vials were found since 1972, and a spokesman said “No one’s denying we should have done a better job cleaning out what was there.”

Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, FDA. It could’ve happened to anyone.

Although, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, I’m going to have a lot more trouble believing any of the stuff you guys sanction as “safe” or “unsafe” for consumption, considering you’ve been dusting around a big ol' pandemic for a few decades like it was your grandma’s box of 45s.

I know how upset y’all got about red food dye but, honestly, given the choice between drinking a few gallons of red food dye and getting smallpox because you didn’t know how to use a dust buster once a decade, I’ll take my chances with the food dye.

I would’ve thought FDA standards for hygiene and safekeeping of dangerous materials would ensure an immaculate facility. Turns out, not so much. No, the FDA housekeeping standards are more in line with “frat house bong water” levels of cleanliness.

Because everybody got upset, the FDA sent the smallpox samples under FBI protection to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for testing. Yeah, that seems like a good idea. Let’s round up the last known sample of a disease that could eradicate humanity and send it down I-95. What could go wrong?

Wait. Don’t answer that.

rivenbark.com

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