The likelihood of an explosion in a Russian research facility subsequently releasing smallpox into the atmosphere and causing an all-out pandemic is extremely small. Unless of course, we live inside the imagination of a Hollywood screenwriter. Or is it?
On Monday, September 16, Koltsovo, Russia-a small community roughly 20 kilometers from the country's third most populated city-experienced an explosion at a VECTOR facility that houses the Variola viruses, the virus that causes smallpox.
Koltsovo is what is referred to as a "science town", or a town or city that has been built primarily to conduct research and development.
The State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, also known as the Vector Institute, is one of only two facilities in the world that maintains a stock of the Variola viruses. The other is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facility in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
In recent reports from a Russian news outlet, the explosion was said to have occurred on the fifth floor, charring a 30 square meter area of the Vector building. It was also reported to have injured and hospitalized one person.
The mayor of Koltsovo, Nikolai Krasnikov, said that the explosion was caused by a gas leak and occurred in a sanitary and disinfecting area of the building that was under renovation and that no biohazardous materials were affected or damaged.
All other news sources' reports coincide with the mayor's statements, but given Russia's long history of secretive behavior, a federal investigation will be conducted to attempt to establish the exact cause and severity of the explosion.
This is the second explosion at a Russian facility in a little more than a month. The previous explosion occurred at an off-shore nuclear research facility and was compared to Chernobyl.
News of Monday's explosion has now spread to the West, where people are beginning to shows sign concern, and it's not unwarranted. The mistranslation of some Russian reports is partly to blame. One report's translation to English read, "all glass in the building was broken," when the actual report said only "some of the windows" were broken and did not give any specification as to just how many. As a result, hashtag 'bioweapons' is currently trending on Twitter.
While this incident is somewhat unnerving, the World Health Organization permits the Vector Institute to house the deadly virus simply because it meets all required, and extremely strict, guidelines.
So for now we'll just have to trust that WHO, and their Russian counterparts, haven't released anything into the atmosphere, and that they are working to prevent any future explosions. Not to mention, the facility also houses Ebola, bird flu, anthrax, and a few other highly dangerous contaminates.