Imagining a partial, partial moon: It’s been a really, really fine day

State and federal health officials are investigating what infected a lab worker at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on Thursday, and a federal health agency said the worker had not yet shown symptoms of the smallpox virus.

The lab worker reported finding vials labeled “smallpox” in a freezer while cleaning an instrument warming unit, according to the hospital, which also said the lab was closed indefinitely.

“We just can’t tell where it was from. We don’t know what it is. We are still testing it,” said Dr. Neal Cohen, the president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Foundation.

Cohen said the hospital notified the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as soon as it learned about the exposure.

Sonia Patel, the dean of the UPMC Graduate School of Public Health, said the hospital would cooperate fully with state and federal health officials as they seek to determine the source of the smallpox.

She said the lab involved has been closed indefinitely, but that UPMC had not performed any research involving smallpox in the last two years.

The laboratory is located in UPMC’s Healthcare Science Campus. UPMC said the laboratory, a combination of advanced facility, is one of the country’s only laboratories that is licensed to collect and store human plasmids – genetic fragments – associated with certain strains of smallpox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

The CDC has been involved in smallpox surveillance and response since 1957, and is designated by the State Department of Health to handle laboratory smallpox samples, according to the website.

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