A highly respected research Institute in France admitted to misplacing more than 2,000 vials containing fragmented samples of the SARS virus. If you can remember, a SARS outbreak in 2003 killed nearly 800 people worldwide and spread across four continents. The researchers assert that the missing vials do not pose a threat to the public. The French government is currently working diligently to find out what happened to the missing samples.

Earlier this week, the Pasteur Institute in Paris announced they had contacted France’s National Security Agency of Medicines and Health Products to conduct an investigation on the 2,000 missing SARS vials. The institute has assured that the missing vials have absolutely no potential of further infection because they only contained parts of the virus. “Independent experts referred by health authorities have qualified such potential as ‘non-existing’ according to the available evidence and literature on the survival of the Sars virus,” the institute explained on the International Business Times UK.

The incident has raised concern for the laboratory’s safety protocol. “Could that lab and perhaps others actually misplace vials that have the complete virus so that it might escape?” Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News.  It is still not clear exactly how the vials went missing. The management was made aware of the loss in January and for weeks tried on their own to find the missing vials. “We went through the lists of all the people who have worked here in the past year and a half, including trainees. We have scrutinized their profiles to check if there was any conflict,” Pasteur Institute General Director, Christian Bréchot, told IBTimes UK. The tubes were stored in a high-security lab dedicated to research into highly infectious viruses. Access to the lab is limited to a restricted number of personnel.

The loss is believed to most likely be due to human error. In March 2013, the tubes were moved from one freezer to another. Bréchot suggests that during the move they may have been destroyed by a member of staff who forgot to record the procedure. As of yet, there are no definitive clues on the current whereabouts of the vile, and now the responsibility is left to France’s Agency for the Safety of Health Products.  

SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. The CDC describes it as a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. Its symptoms begin with a high fever, headache, overall feeling of discomfort, and body aches. Some people have mild respiratory problems, diarrhea, a dry cough, or pneumonia. The virus is spread by close person-to-person contact and can be caught through the sneezes or coughs of infected individuals.