updated 4/20/2005 4:07:51 PM ET 2005-04-20T20:07:51

All samples of the killer influenza virus sent outside the United States have been destroyed except for one in Lebanon, the U.N. health agency said Wednesday.

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The sample that had gone missing in Beirut “was found at the airport,” said Maria Cheng, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.

Previously unaccounted for samples sent to Mexico and South Korea already have been destroyed, she said.

Dr. Walid Ammar, director general of Lebanon’s Health Ministry, said in Beirut that the sample was being kept “in a safe place” until the ministry was instructed on whether to destroy it or send it back to the College of American Pathologists.

Cheng said WHO had contacted the College of American Pathologists “to see if they would accept this package back or if they wanted to ship it to another lab to be destroyed.”

Because of fears of a global pandemic should the virus be released, WHO has been urging destruction of the 50-year-old H2N2 virus. The kits were sent to 61 laboratories in 18 countries outside the United States.

Cheng said South Korean officials had previously reported to WHO that they had destroyed half the samples they had been sent, but hadn’t confirmed they also destroyed the other half. The destruction of all the samples sent to South Korea has now been confirmed, she said.

A missing shipment to Mexico has been tracked down in a warehouse and has also been destroyed, she added.

98 percent of U.S. samples destroyed
“There are still some laboratories in the United States that haven’t confirmed the destruction of the samples they were sent,” Cheng said, adding that at last word 98 percent of the U.S. samples had been destroyed.

U.S. laboratories received the vast majority of the 3,747 kits sent out in October and February.

The so-called “Asian flu” strain of 1957 killed between 1 million and 4 million people. It has not been included in flu vaccines since 1968, and anyone born after that date has little or no immunity to it.

Most of the samples were sent starting last year at the request of the College of American Pathologists, which helps labs do proficiency testing. The last shipments were sent out in February.

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