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Science & Technology

Should smallpox be condemned to extinction?

By T.K. Randall
May 20, 2014 · Comment icon 13 comments

The disease was wiped out thanks to vaccinations. Image Credit: PD - John Keith
Health officials will be meeting next week to decide if the virus should be destroyed once and for all.
At its peak smallpox was one of the world's deadliest killers, resulting in the deaths of 1 in 12 people. The invention of the first effective vaccine in 1798 however eventually began to turn the tide and by 1980 it was declared that the disease had finally been eradicated.

Not all traces of the virus were destroyed however, some still remained in storage and in research laboratories. Scientists spent years documenting its every detail, developing potential new treatments and testing the effectiveness of modern medicines, but eventually its usefulness came to an end.
The question now is whether the last remaining traces of the disease should be destroyed, effectively rendering it extinct. There have been multiple attempts by health officials to come to an agreement on the issue but to date the virus contains to survive in a few select locations.

This week delegates from all over the world will be meeting once again in an effort to decide on the outcome of the last remaining samples of the disease. If it is determined that it holds no further scientific value and that the risk of keeping it around is greater than any benefits it serves then it is possible that we may soon see an end to the smallpox virus once and for all.

Source: New Scientist | Comments (13)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by Razer 10 years ago
I doubt that if they decide to destroy any remaining samples, there still won't be a few samples kept some place they don't know. Yep, at least a few governmets will probably keep it around for some later date for possible weaponization or who knows what.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Paranomaly 10 years ago
What if sp was a cure for some future ailment...
Comment icon #6 Posted by Sundew 10 years ago
Sadly we don't trust other countries to destroy all samples and likely they don't trust us either. Can't see how it would be a bad think to render the virus extinct, however.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Troublehalf 10 years ago
It's unlikely, and would ultimately be stupid, in my eyes. Why? Because it's possible that smallpox, or another strain/early version of it is actually frozen in permafrost somewhere. Seeing as how one survived (as in, replicated after being thawed) what's stopping another one? Having 'our' smallpox sample on hand, we could compare both and hopefully treat the newly unfrozen one. Not to mention, as soon as it's destroyed, anybody who has a sample themselves can unleash it. Oh and let's not forget, originally, it was due to be destroyed, and was forgotten about. Also, does humanity have the righ... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by DieChecker 10 years ago
I believe it Should be destroyed, but the agrument that others would hoard it is too true. And therefore the US would have to maintain its own supply for vaccine purposes if nothing else.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Hvashi 10 years ago
It shouldn't be destroyed. It's always smart to have the samples secured of course, but not annihilated. It may be needed to create vaccines for another strain. The glaciers and Antarctic sheets are melting ... who knows what sorts of ancient viruses and microbes will arise from their millennia-long slumber. Better to be safe than sorry.
Comment icon #10 Posted by ninjadude 10 years ago
It shouldn't be destroyed. It's always smart to have the samples secured of course, but not annihilated. It may be needed to create vaccines for another strain. The glaciers and Antarctic sheets are melting ... who knows what sorts of ancient viruses and microbes will arise from their millennia-long slumber. Better to be safe than sorry. smallpox is only transmitted by human carriers. Which is why it has been eradicated. Therefore there can be no "other strains". There might by viruses similar but not small pox. There would be no "ancient viruses" of small pox.
Comment icon #11 Posted by jesspy 10 years ago
It will most likely be "destroyed" to avoid biological terrorism. But if I was a biological terrorist I would aim for the food supply not people. There is more terror in watching your family slowly starve to death then watching them be afflicted by a disease that will likely just leave them disfigured but alive. Smallpox only kills 1 in 12. Starvation kills 12 in 12.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Frank Merton 10 years ago
Seems nobody has enough trust in everybody else to get rid of something that otherwise might escape and cause havoc, even though the chance of that is small.
Comment icon #13 Posted by jesspy 10 years ago
Seems nobody has enough trust in everybody else to get rid of something that otherwise might escape and cause havoc, even though the chance of that is small. Here is an article on the few viruses that have escaped. http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/04/11/a-brief-terrifying-history-of-viruses-escaping-from-labs-70s-chinese-pandemic-was-a-lab-mistake/


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