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Officials: Texas lab with dangerous pathogens secured

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  • Officials: Viruses at University of TX Medical Branch/Galveston National Labs destroyed
  • Texas governor spokesman says that pathogens were destroyed before Ike
  • Facility is the World Health Organization's center for research on arboviruses
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From Jeanne Meserve
CNN
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(CNN) -- Workers at a Galveston, Texas, laboratory said to contain dangerous biological agents secured the pathogens Friday ahead of Hurricane Ike, officials said.

The pathogens, which include the deadly ebola virus, were purposely destroyed before the staff left the facility in advance of the hurricane, said Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman, Andrew Barlow.

The Web site for the University of Texas Medical Branch/Galveston National Labs was completed and opened just recently.

The lab is one of the country's five biosafety labs that are Level-IV, the highest level. Such laboratories typically handle pathogens like smallpox, tularemia and anthrax to develop vaccines and antidotes.

The laboratory followed protocols for shutting, said Gretchen Michael, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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She said that for security reasons, she would not detail the procedures or describe the agents.

A Department of Homeland Security official concurred that all the samples had been destroyed, and the building was locked down, quarantined and "rendered safe."

But a former student who worked at the Level-III laboratory while the Level-IV facility was being constructed and who knows the manager, said she would be surprised if all of the pathogens had been destroyed, since some of them are rare and extremely valuable.

The facility is the World Health Organization's center for research on arboviruses, such as ticks and mosquitoes, and tropical disease work, said the student, who asked not to be identified.

It also holds ebola virus and fever-causing lassa virus, sometimes-fatal hantaviruses and anthrax bacteria, she said.

She added that all Level-IV laboratories are designed to ensure they can withstand hurricanes, and because of its location, special care was taken with the laboratory in Galveston.

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"I know that everyone at that facility, every single person at that facility, I'm certain has done everything they could possibly do to ensure that the community and the facility is absolutely safe, because all the people that work there, their livelihood and careers are dependent on the things that are held in that lab, and they would be destroyed -- just as much as the community would be destroyed -- if anything were to happen," she said.

CDC spokesman Von Roebuck said only that "quite a bit has been done" to secure the laboratory.

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