updated 4/7/2004 1:25:19 PM ET 2004-04-07T17:25:19

A common rabies vaccine for humans is being recalled in the United States and 23 other countries after a live strain of the virus was found in some other samples made at the same time.

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Testing of Aventis Pasteur’s IMOVAX vaccine uncovered the presence of a live Pittman-Moore strain of the rabies virus, when the drug “should not contain live virus,” the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

While the tested lot of the vaccine was never distributed for public use, Aventis recalled four other lots in the United States because they were made during the same time as the faulty lot. The CDC said those lots had all passed quality tests.

The CDC said it was unlikely that anyone who received rabies shots from the recalled lots could have been exposed to the live form of the virus, but “a theoretical possibility exists.”

Additional shots recommended
As a result, the CDC has recommended that people who have taken recalled rabies shots receive additional shots of the vaccine that have not been recalled.

The recalled lots, X0667-2, X0667-3, W1419-2 and W1419-3, were distributed between Sept. 23 and Friday, company officials said in a news release.

Twenty-one other lots were being recalled in 23 other countries, according to information from the vaccine manufacturer posted Wednesday on a Web site for infectious disease doctors. The lots recalled overseas also passed quality tests, the CDC said.

Aventis officials at the company’s headquarters in Swiftwater, Pa., did not immediately return telephone messages left by The Associated Press.

A vaccine expert said Aventis did not have to recall the lots because they had been tested and did not carry the live virus.

“This really was an excess of caution and a very elaborately cautious response. Exceedingly responsible,” said Dr. William Schaffner, head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Schaffner said the rabies vaccine is the most commonly used in the world.

The other countries affected by the recall were: Angola, Australia, Botswana, Croatia, Denmark, Chad, Germany, Hong Kong (China), Ireland, Italy, Malawi, Mozambique, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Nigeria, Oman, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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