Transcript for 6 Vials of Small Pox Left Unguarded for Decades Found
Good evening. A scare about the virus who put smallpox Ina cardboard box. Who came near it and how dangerous was it? ABC's chief health and medical editor Dr. Besser starts us off with answers. Reporter: Tonight, real alarm about how six vials of smallpox were left in a low security laboratory for decades. Forgotten in a refrigerated storage room at the national institute of health in bethesda, Maryland. If this material is infectious and violences had broken what could have happened? There was a potential someone could have contracted the disease. Reporter: The vials, believe to be from the 1950s, were discovered one week ago when the contents of the storagfe room was being moved. Opening that box, workers saw an alarming label: "Variola." That's smallpox. They quickly moved it to a biohazard level 3 lab, one with cameras, scanners and alarms where everyone wears protective gear. The national security council was notified and five agencies, including the FBI, worked out a plan to transport the deadly virus safely to the CDC in Atlanta. Late last night, the vials were packed up, escorted to the airport by federal and local police and flown on a government plane to CDC headquarters. Smallpox, which is highly contagious, killed 2 million people a year as recently as 1967. But it was wholly eradicated after a unprecedented worldwide campaign to get people vaccinated. By international agreement, samples lived on in only two lab, the CDC in and one in siberia. Or so we thought, until today. Law enforcement have long feared what could happen if terrorists get their hands on smallpox and turn it into a weapon. The newly discovered vials are now in a level 4 biohazard lab. Security so state you have to get access only by an eye scan. The smallpox discovery comes just weeks after the CDC acknowledged mishandling anthrax. Should we be worried? In both cases which are unfortunate, CDC's response was swift and deliberate to ensure public safety and to try to get to the root cause of what had happened. The good news these vials were not opened so no one was in danger. If the virus did get out thankfully we have a vaccine that would have protected anyone exposed. What other deadly germs could be hidden away in labs around the country That's it, rich. How many of these storage facilities are we talking about and how on Earth do you search them all? There are hundreds of thousands of laboratories. The directors of those labs have to do spring cleaning and go through every freezer, every corner to make sure there's nothing there that shouldn't be there. Some spring cleaning. This was a close call. Thank you very much, Richard
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.