CDC detects coronavirus, HIV, hepatitis and herpes at unlicensed California lab

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Local and federal authorities have been conducting a months-long investigation into a warehouse located in Fresno County, California. The warehouse is suspected to have housed an illegal and unlicensed laboratory containing lab mice, medical waste, and hazardous materials.

The Reedley branch of the Fresno County Public Health Department has been monitoring the activities of this unlicensed laboratory. Joe Prado, the assistant director of the health department, stated that the agency had completed the legal process of destroying all the biological agents found in the warehouse by July 7. The evaluation of the warehouse required the collaboration and coordination of multiple federal and state agencies in order to determine the classification of the biological and chemical materials present.

According to court documents, city officials inspected the warehouse on March 3 for building violations and discovered various chemicals being stored. On March 16, county public health officials conducted an inspection that revealed the presence of medical devices believed to have been developed on-site, including Covid and pregnancy tests. The court documents also stated that certain rooms in the warehouse contained multiple vessels of liquid, various apparatus, and blood, tissue, and bodily fluid samples. Additionally, thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material were observed.

The warehouse also housed hundreds of mice in inhumane conditions. The city took possession of the animals in April and euthanized 773 of them, with over 175 found dead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the substances found in the warehouse and identified at least 20 potentially infectious agents, including coronavirus, HIV, hepatitis, and herpes.

An investigation traced the tenant of the warehouse to Prestige BioTech, a company registered in Nevada but unlicensed to do business in California. Xiuquin Yao, identified as the company president, explained to officials that Prestige BioTech had relocated assets from a defunct company called Universal Meditech Inc. to the Reedley warehouse after the latter went out of business. However, officials were unable to find any valid addresses for either company in California except for the former Fresno location from which Universal Meditech Inc. had been evicted.

Prestige BioTech is accused of failing to comply with orders, including providing a plan for abatement of biological materials and their proper disposal. Requests for comment from Yao and Prestige BioTech have gone unanswered. City officials have cleared the warehouse of hazardous materials, but there are still ongoing investigations conducted by federal partners.

Overall, the investigation into the unlicensed laboratory in Fresno County has revealed a range of concerning findings, from unauthorized experimentation with potentially infectious agents to the inhumane treatment of lab animals. Authorities are continuing their efforts to fully address these issues and hold those responsible accountable.

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