Vials of innocuous swine flu virus have exploded on an intercity train, prompting police to stop passengers before they arrived in Lausanne.
A laboratory technician from a Geneva hospital had been transporting the vials on Monday evening from a veterinary institute in Zurich. The Federal Health Office had called for the development of a diagnostic test for the illness that has killed as many as 150 people worldwide.
Near Fribourg the technician heard a muffled pop. Built-up gas from dry ice surrounding the vials had caused the package to explode.
The carriage in which the technician was travelling held 61 passengers at the time. The Federal Railways did not learn of the incident until 40 minutes later after the train had already passed through Fribourg. Police then stopped the train near Lausanne, inspected passengers and wrote down their names as a precaution.
"This virus is not dangerous to humans," said Laurent Kaiser, head of the Geneva lab. "It is the same stock as the H1N1 virus but it has nothing in common with the strain spreading around the world."
The technician and one passenger suffered slight wounds, the only injuries, but some travellers were angry that they had not been informed of the incident sooner.
"Why did they leave us enclosed in a contaminated car for an hour?" asked one passenger. "There was a pregnant woman who panicked. They only informed us sparingly. And why didn't they stop the train in Fribourg?"
Viruses and other infectious specimens are often transported by train or even post. Kaiser said this particular shipment had been packaged according to regulations.
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