A prestigious French institute, Institut Pasteur, has admitted to losing more than 2,300 samples of the potentially deadly SARS virus.
Yesterday (Tuesday) researchers at the Paris facility revealed that 26 boxes containing 2,349 vials of the disease have gone missing.
Worryingly, the institute only realised that the samples had vanished after carrying out a routine inventory.
The institute has been quick to reassure the public that the vials do not pose a health risk as they only contain fragments of the virus, and cannot pass on the infection.
In a statement the institute said: “The tubes concerned have no infectious potential.
“Independent experts referred by health authorities have qualified the risk as “nil” in regards to available evidence and literature on the survival of the SAS virus.”
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a highly contagious and potentially deadly respiratory illness that kills around 10% of those who become infected.
It is an airborne virus, spreading in a similar way to the flu and common cold. It has flu-like symptoms that usually begin two to ten days after infection.
These include high temperature, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and loss of appetite.
Reportedly, the institute has formally asked French authorities to investigate the virus disappearance.
The institute has said that the samples may have been destroyed by accident, or without any record having been made.
Christian Bréchot, Director General of the institute said: “The theory of human error is the most probable, but we are not ruling anything out.”