Coronavirus, HIV, Hepatitis and Herpes Found in Unlicensed California Lab

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
July 28, 2023US News
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After several months of investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it found at least 20 potentially infectious agents in an illegal laboratory in a warehouse in Fresno County, California.

In the warehouse, authorities found hazardous materials, medical waste, incubators, some 30 refrigerators and freezers, and no less than 958 lab mice.

In a statement to NBC News Thursday, Fresno County Public Health Department assistant director Joe Prado referred to the Reedley warehouse as “an unlicensed laboratory.”

According to court documents, a code enforcement officer inspected the warehouse on March 3 when she noticed a garden hose illegally attached and coming out of a wall in the back of the building. During her inspection, she noticed unusual activity in what should be a storage facility.

“When she went to investigate, she found that there was activity or operation or something happening within that building,” Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba told KSEE.

After obtaining search warrants, the Fresno County Public Health Department searched the building on March 16, making the shocking discovery.

“There was a special room that was built housing about 1000 white lab mice,” Ms. Zieba explained, 175 of which were already dead.

The Health Department also found medical devices believed to be developed onsite, such as COVID tests and pregnancy tests.

According to court documents, “Certain rooms of the warehouse were found to contain several vessels of liquid and various apparatus … Fresno County Public Health staff also observed blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material.”

After testing the substances, the CDC detected at least 20 potentially infectious agents, including coronavirus, HIV, malaria, hepatitis and herpes.

All hazardous materials were removed from the warehouse by July 7 following a legal abatement process. The mice were humanely euthanized in April.

“The evaluation required coordination and collaboration with multiple federal and state agencies to determine and classify biological and chemical contents onsite, in addition to assessing jurisdictional authority under this unique situation,” Mr. Prado said.

A criminal investigation revealed that the building was rented by Prestige BioTech, a company registered in Nevada and unlicensed for business in California.

Court documents contained email communications of city officials with Prestige BioTech’s president Xiuquin Yao. Mr. Yao stated that his company moved the assets to the Fresno warehouse after his company obtained them from a now-defunct debtor, Universal Meditech Inc.

Court documents say both companies failed to provide any licensing that allows laboratory activity, nor did they provide the necessary permits for storing and importing chemical reagents from outside the United States.

Not even an official California-based address could be found for either company. “The other addresses provided for identified authorized agents were either empty offices or addresses in China that could not be verified,” court documents said.

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