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May 16th, 2011
04:31 PM ET

Should the world's last smallpox virus be destroyed?

Health officials from 193 countries are gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, this week for the World Health Organization's annual meeting to discuss  myriad health threats of today.  Among the many topics on the agenda is the question – when should the last remaining samples of Variola, the virus that causes smallpox,  be destroyed?

The decision to destroy the known remaining virus samples was made back in 1996. But the actual destruction date has been delayed four times – most recently in 2007. So these samples of the virus – 451 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and about 120 stored in a lab called "Vector" in a remote Siberian town in Russia - continue to hibernate in liquid nitrogen.

Smallpox has been described as the world's worst diseases.  It infected only humans and 30% of those sickened died.  Many who survived were horribly scarred or  became blind or both. Up to half a billion people died from the disease just in 20th century alone.

Dr. D.A. Henderson, who was in charge of the WHO's global smallpox eradication program, saw firsthand what this virus could do.  "Probably the worst experiences I've ever had were going into smallpox wards. I've never seen anything so pitiful in all my life. It has the odor of dying flesh, nasty odor," he said.  "You have these people who are pathetic – they just want water, but they can't drink; they want food but you can't provide it to them. There's nothing you can do for them – nothing at all."

The WHO's massive vaccination program was a success and led to the eradication of smallpox in 1980. The last naturally occurring case was in 1977, and the final cased occurred  in 1978, when a laboratory accident led to the exposure and the death of one person from the disease, explains Dr. Inger Damon, chief of the Poxvirus and Rabies Branch at the CDC. Damon is one of a handful of people at the CDC who has access to virus, which is kept under the most extreme safety and security measures.

She says that although multiple research labs across the world once had the virus, the WHO worked to consolidate the locations and by 1984 only the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia) remained.   More could still be learned from this incredibly deadly virus, so it wasn't until 1990, that the WHO decided the smallpox virus should be destroyed, explains Jonathan Tucker, author of "The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox."

The deadline was set for the end of 1993. Tucker describes how a Soviet defector suggested that his country as well as others may have hidden stocks of smallpox and that it could be used for bioterrorism.

While experts agree smallpox would not be an effective bioweapon because once you unleash it, you can't just target a specific population, the more likely scenario for a new outbreak would be a release by someone with an undeclared stash. The WHO inspects the two known stockpiles.

There's always the chance that someone could bioengineer a smallpox virus because modern technology has allowed for the genetic sequencing of the virus' DNA. But finding someone who could do it  would be very difficult, as would actually doing it, Damon says.

Damon believes that  more work needs to be done on the actual virus and that now is not yet the time to destroy the stockpiles. She says new drugs or vaccines need to be tested on the  virus to determine whether they work, since this is not the type of experimentation that can be done on humans.

If there were an outbreak of smallpox, which everyone appears to agree is unlikely but cannot be ruled out, it would pose a major threat.  "We estimate that 75% of the population is fully susceptible to smallpox," says Henderson.  WHO recommended against vaccination when the disease was declared eradicated in 1980. Even those who were vaccinated 30 years ago would have little immunity remaining.

However, Henderson and other advocates for destroying the stockpiles believe that since two new vaccines have now been developed and development of two new antiviral drugs is almost complete, it's time to let go of these stockpiles.

Russia and the United States disagree.  Some are suggesting that drastically reducing the number of strains in each lab may be a compromise, if destroying them entirely is not agreed upon.  The WHO's World Health Assembly is meeting all week in Geneva. The smallpox issue is expected to be debated by Wednesday or Thursday.


soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. Newportmdgreen

    Absolutely. Take pictures... take notes.. (in case it resurfaces) and destroy the damn thing. We were not put on earth to preserve that which kills us. Let nature take its course and destroy the damn thing.

    May 16, 2011 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nathan

      If nature had taken its course, the virus would be alive and well and there would be a lot fewer people in the world.

      May 16, 2011 at 19:21 | Report abuse |
    • Stubb

      I've got to agree with Nathan. Smallpox is nature's birth control since we can't seem to strap one on, take a pill or pull out in time. Bring back Varicella! Our alternative is war and starvation and we're halfway there.

      May 16, 2011 at 19:54 | Report abuse |
    • Grumpster

      Hey Nathan, maybe that population wouldn't include you...or anyone you know either. Dipstick.

      May 16, 2011 at 21:27 | Report abuse |
    • charles s

      Yes destroy it. A thousand times Yes destroy it. A million times Yes destroy it. A half billion dead people say yes destroy it. Nothing good can happen with it being around. The complete gene sequence is known and heaven forbid it can be remade in the future if need be but it serves no good except presents a target for some deranged terrorist.

      This the real Pandora's box containing nothing but death and misery for humans. Let this scourge of humans be forever extinct and gone. I understand some humans fascination with this horrible disease but the last person to die if from was a medical researcher who was playing with death and that person was killed by it. Let that medical researcher be the last person to die of this horrible disease.

      May 16, 2011 at 23:47 | Report abuse |
    • Bad Patient

      Get rid of it. Then let's wipe 20-30 more diseases off the planet while we are at it. T2 diabetes and high blood pressure can go...and all of the others that go along with those two. (We could stop producing corn and take a good swipe out of that mess.)

      May 17, 2011 at 05:11 | Report abuse |
    • John

      Let nature take its course?? Are you paying attention at all?

      May 17, 2011 at 07:54 | Report abuse |
    • drqns

      @Nathan – Varicella is chickenpox. Variola is smallpox!

      May 17, 2011 at 07:57 | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      We would be foolish to think we have the power to eradicate any virus. We just aren't that all-powerful. Do we know where it came from in the first place? Who can say with certainty it's gone from the wild forever? Just because people have been vaccinated and it isn't showing up doesn't mean it's gone, doesn't mean it hasn't mutated slightly and could mutate again to something more virulent. If we have the means to preserve it for a just-in-case scenario, then we should do that. Pictures and notes will never take the place of being able to work on the real thing. Science is still evolving. If we preserve the real virus we may make new discoveries with it that will help us in the future.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse |
    • dom625

      We interfere with nature all the time. Like Nathan said, if nature had its way, a LOT of humans would not be here due to natural causes. Infant mortality, malnutrition, infectious diseases, you name it...we have prevented nature from doing what it does. Hence, the population explosion of the past century or so.

      That said, these samples should not be destroyed. Smallpox was strictly a human disease, but it did not originate from thin air. There must have been a virus infectious to another species that made the jump to people. This could happen again. We need to preserve these viruses for future study and research in the event that we get another epidemic.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy

      Don't destroy it, isolate it. What if some extraterrestrial beings decide to attempt to invade earth? A sample of the virus could be enough to kill it/them.

      I know, it sounds crazy, probably is. But just consider it...

      May 17, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
  2. fuyuko

    Why destory samples you may need in the future?

    May 16, 2011 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leo

      Are you serious? Okay, think about this for a moment: The only reason to keep a sample of a virus in a lab is if you're working on destroying it through vaccines. Once that sample of the virus is the ONLY source of that virus left on the planet, the LAST step in destroying the virus is to destroy the FINAL SAMPLE. Do you get that?

      May 17, 2011 at 08:14 | Report abuse |
    • G. R.R.

      @Leo, as a one-time virologist that worked at CDC, do you have any idea how simple it is that more samples are on this planet?
      I think that it is likely. The fact is, that during the USSR break-up, it was likely for samples to be taken. In addition, we think of Variola as human only, but it IS possible that it is being harbored by non-human cells SOMEWHERE.

      I would much rather not seen it destroyed, but reduced in size to say 10 or so.

      May 17, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      G.R.R. – think of guns in the hands of children. As advanced as science may be, the politics control these things, and politicians are children. They have a deadly toy, and chances are, they'll use it someday. Since when have politicians shown real restraint? And remember that the people calling the shots are almost completely clueless about epidemiology and the biosciences in general.

      I'm a biologist working in biomedical research, and I used to be an Army officer. I trained with the US Army as a chemical, nuclear, and biological defense specialist. Simple fact I've learned over the years: if something bad CAN happen, it WILL happen. If you've intentionally got a stockpile of this stuff, something can go wrong.

      Sure, there MIGHT be other reservoirs of the virus in nature, but if that's true... why have we not encountered them? With almost 7 billion people on this ball of dirt, living on every continent and in every biome, digging through every possible crevice of the planet, we would have encountered it somewhere.

      And then... if we DO encounter it again somewhere... guess what! We can take NEW SAMPLES.

      Wait a minute... the light bulb is flickering. We're using fluorescent now. Wait for it... THERE it is. Simply put, if we encounter smallpox again, we won't need the old samples because we'll be able to GET new samples. If the virus has mutated in whatever wild reservoir it's been theoretically hiding in, we'd need new samples anyway.

      And finally... smallpox vaccine isn't even made with the smallpox virus. It's made with cowpox. We don't even NEED smallpox virus to create new anti-smallpox vaccines.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:01 | Report abuse |
    • TI-90

      @ Leo. Only is a very strong word, as scientists we do not keep viruses to "only" find vaccines. In fact that is only a subset of what virology research does. Why do we study adeno associate virus, adenovirus, FIV, etc. Its not for vaccines, its so we can use them to treat diseases. Viruses give us the opportunity to hyjack an already evolved system to treat human diseases by gene therapy. Just look at Leber's congenital amaurosis, virsues were used to restore partical vision to childern. We need to keep these viruses around so we can study them and for reverse engenieering, (saving tons of taxpayer money by not having to think up the mechanism yourself). Tons of small pox was distributed after the fall of the soviet union, eradicating our stocks is not going to eradicte it from the world. I am afraid of spiders but I do not think we should get rid of them, I just have to take the proper precautions to not get bit.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse |
    • Molly

      @Leo Well actually, to be more accurate, the current vaccine is made with Vaccinia virus. We really don't know when or how Vaccinia came to replace Cowpox in the vaccine.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
    • michael

      To the brilliant one who "corrected" leo, vaccinia is just another name for the cowpox virus. If you really don't know anything about it, why post as if you do? Do you get a rush out of it or something?

      May 17, 2011 at 22:50 | Report abuse |
    • Molly

      To the even more brilliant fellow who "corrected" me, I would ask you the same question. Vaccinia is not just another name for cowpox. It is a virus of unknown origin that came to replace cowpox in the vaccine at some point in time. It may be a hybridization of smallpox and cowpox viruses or it could be a closely related virus (possibly a horsepox) that shares a common ancestor. But as someone who makes a living as a virologist, I do know something about this topic. Whereas even a cursory glance at wikipedia would have told you that they are not the same.

      May 18, 2011 at 13:30 | Report abuse |
  3. klarg

    Can they save separated fragments of its genetic material?

    May 16, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. GrammyMac

    NEVER!!!!!

    May 16, 2011 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Holonet

    "Damon is one of a handful of people at the CDC who has access to virus, which is kept under the most extreme safety and security measures."

    Thank goodness Sony wasn't taking care of this.

    May 16, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sparknut

      Or the federal government. Oops, that's right, it is the federal government that has chart of the virus. And worse, the Russian federal government has some too!

      May 16, 2011 at 22:10 | Report abuse |
    • Vesstair

      Yeah. The Federal Gov't is just terrible at keeping things safe if they really want to.

      Just look at how many times Ft. Knox has been robbed.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
    • Secrets kept safe

      The federal government is really secure, it is not like Nuclear secrets are stolen from Los Alamos Hard disk drives or anything by foreign employees on visas. I suspect Fort Knox has not been robbed in part because there is nothing to steal.

      May 17, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
  6. Stubb

    Don't be fooled. There are aliquots of smallpox virus in other places including Ft. Detrick. It is such a potentially valuable tool for warefare, nobody is willing to give it up. It only infects people so entire populations of people can be killed without harming the environment. 7 billion and counting.....

    May 16, 2011 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grumpster

      Yeah...and so the movie Outbreak was based on what Ft. Detrick held or still holds...so what?! We're far more vulnerable to a mutant of the common cold or some odd chicken virus. Still...it should not be destroyed...it's still out there, but we just haven't run across it recently. 30 years is statistically not a long time since the last case.

      May 16, 2011 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
  7. Dave

    N o. What if there is some that was borne by the wind to the Arctic and the ice sheet contiaining it eventualy melts allowing it to migrate free? It is not unusual for a virus to be viable after being frozen and subsequenly defrosted. To umleash it into a global population no longer vaccinated would have catastrophic results.

    May 16, 2011 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dwight C. Stevenson

    To destroy our ONLY defense against smallpox is outright dangerous. Perhaps the best compromise may be to reduce the supply but surely not destroy it. In the unlikely event of a recurrance we should at LEAST retain the ability to re-establish a defense against this catastrophic disease.

    May 16, 2011 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tricia

      How does destroying the virus destroy our ability to defend against this disease? The vaccine for smallpox is made from Vaccinia, a completely different virus than Variola, the virus that causes smallpox. (With that said, I don't support destroying the virus – there is still a lot to be learned from it!)

      May 16, 2011 at 23:09 | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      Tricia, I wish you could get everyone to read what you just wrote. People are forgetting the original story of smallpox vaccination and how it was discovered. It wasn't created using smallpox virus, but COWPOX.

      There are plenty of scientific reasons to want to preserve the specimen, but the creation of vaccines is NOT one of them.

      May 17, 2011 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
    • Cathy W

      Actually, Leo, the original innoculations were created from the actual Variola virus. They powered the scabs from someone who was recovering from the disease, and used a variety of methods to introduce that dying viral material to healthy people (the Chinese 1000 years ago would blow it up the nose!). Read up on Cotton Mather and Lady Montagu

      May 17, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    Why keep them. If the virus comes back, we already have everything we need for it, plus we'll then have more samples to stock again.

    If something similar is discovered, we'll need to start from scratch anyway.

    May 16, 2011 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. vladmir smirnof

    in soviet russia smallpox decide to destroy you

    May 17, 2011 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kyle

    Just think... When aliens start invading, we just throw a vile of Smallpox on them and hope for the best.. (I believe that somewhere in the billions of galaxies there are other notable existences of life, don't flame)

    May 17, 2011 at 03:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jayne

    Why is it that we only want to save cute fuzzy life forms from extinction. We do not have the right to destroy it. Lock it up, OK Stop it from spreading, sure. Destroy it, remember that there are often unintended consequences.

    May 17, 2011 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JeramieH

      A virus is hardly a life form. It's a floating package of DNA. It can't reproduce on its own, it doesn't metabolize its own energy, etc.

      May 17, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  13. Blog Bomb Shell

    destroy it. There is no usefulness. We have the vaccine. IF it comes back in a mutated form a new vaccine would be required so the original is of no use. destroy it.

    May 17, 2011 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Anna 1953

    25 years ago, my younger brother, a well-known geneticist, said, "It's insane to keep any of this virus. Someday, it could get into the hands of a madman, and the consequences are beyond belief." I remember thinking how unlikely such a scenario would be: who would possibly do such a devilish thing. Well, here we are in 2011 - and the unthinkable is, unfortunately, quite a real possibility.
    GET RID OF IT ALL, FOREVER!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Taysha

    You do not destroy something that can help you save lives.

    If you trust that we have ALL the smallpox accounted for, I have a bridge to sell you in San Francisco.

    Engineering DNA is not difficult, and we have lost herd immunity to smallpox. Eradicating what's left of the virus just leaves us with nothing to fall back on should it ever get out. The original virus is an invaluable resource should it ever get out again, especially now when we are all vulnerable to it. Control it, monitor it, for god's sake study the heck out of it, but don't destroy it.

    May 17, 2011 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jaime

    No way we should destroy this. The research and future possibilities for smallpox to do good are too vast to consider destroying the samples. The old adage that you don't need something until you don't have it is true here. Destroying the samples could mean that our children are less prepared in the future to deal with outbreaks of smallpox and other diseases in the future.

    May 17, 2011 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jozef Metzger

    I don't think they should destroy the virus. What when we think we have destroyed it but then it re-surfaces and causes another epidemic and then we wouldn't have a vaccine.

    May 17, 2011 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Anthrogirl

    This is the reason why humas are the most babaric of all creatures. We are just more calculating in the way we plan to destroy. Now we wonder why AIDs and other diseases are around. Who is to say it was not created for the sole purpose of destroying. That is why we are in a bad economic state. ll out tax dollars are taken and used to facilitate efforts to destroy. Who do you think in funding all the weapons and nuclear research and production?

    May 17, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Earanán

      Wow, you're just incoherent.

      Hope your parents didn't waste too much of their money sending you to school.

      May 17, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
  19. mike

    Who is Gupta kidding?
    The military organizations of USA, Russia, China, ad infinitum, will NOT be destroying their stocks of smallpox virus.
    No point in fantasizing about it, never gonna happen.
    Smallpox WILL be released into the world again, it is simply too powerful of a weapon, and humans are simply too mean.

    May 17, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cathy W

      The problem with using it as a weapon is that once it's out, it's OUT. How would the people who deployed such a weapon, keep it from killing off 30+% of their own people once it makes its way around the world? In this day and age of global travel, it would be impossible to isolate the effects of the disease to one geographic area. For that reason, it's a poor weapon (though it could still be used).

      May 17, 2011 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
  20. Bob

    I would rather have it hanging around in a cryo freeze than not be available if somebody decides to unleash it on the world.

    May 17, 2011 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. kay

    Sooner or later, we'll have an outbreak of smallpox. Only a matter of time. The results will be far more horrific than anything anyone can imagine.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bri Guy

      I just imagined a smallpox epidemic. Would it be worse than that?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse |
  22. Terry Brookman

    Anyone who beleives that the military is going to et rid of such a potent weapon is sadley delouional, it's like saying they are going to get rid if gun powder. LOL

    May 17, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gee, I'm sure you must know.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse |
    • Cathy W

      It's not a great weapon, actually, as it's impossible to control it, or limit it to a specific geographical area. Eventually it would kill off lots of people in your own country, too.

      May 17, 2011 at 17:31 | Report abuse |
  23. RealGlaird

    Okay, all those who believe in evolution. The latest popular remark that encapsulates that idea; "Life will find a way.". If that is true, small pox most certainly will be back. Based on the trends in genetic research and physical chemistry, medicine may progress to the point that cures can be engineered, based on the genetic structure of the disease. That may include any newly appearing disease. It would be imperative to maintain a genetic sample of this disease, just for that reason.
    All of you who believe in creation. Trust me, small pox is not gone. It is just hiding. Once it was created, it is lying dormant somewhere on this planet. There again, the same progress in medicine will take place. Ergo, same justification for keeping samples around.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • charles s

      What does a belief in evolution have to do with destroying this virus? So this particular virus becomes extinct and no longer threatens humans and that is bad? Millions of species have become extinct since the creation of the earth. If smallpox exists outside of humans, none has been found. Will there be some hidden stash of it? Maybe, but at least all known stocks of it will be gone and that will make fewer targets for terrorists. If some are hidden and only a few people know about it, then those hidden ones are probably unknown to terrorist anyway. If the hidden stash of smallpox becomes known, then they can be destroyed too. Will some smallpox like disease emerge in the future? No one knows and that threat will have to be met when it happens; at least smallpox itself will no longer be on this earth.

      May 17, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
  24. Wally

    I'm with keeping it. Since it can be replicated, it will at some point and if we can learn more from testing on the current samples it is worth doing so before the inevitable happens.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Tom, Long Beach, California

    send it to Iran...opened

    May 17, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. CincyCat

    My $0.02...

    The risk of destroying the only "known" samples far outweighs the risk of "not" destroying them.

    The only reason we haven't had an "accidentally on purpose" outbreak is because of the delicate balance of power that we currently have between the two countries with "known" samples.

    Also, the only way destroying the samples would work is if it is done simultaneously, with live streaming webcam feeds between the two labs so that one country can't say "Haha! Changed our minds, we're keeping ours..." AFTER the other country has destroyed theirs.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Antonio Velasquez Jr.

    Magic mirror on the wall,who is the fairest of them all? Satan is the fairest of us all.NOT FOR LONG!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Joe

    Where's PETA on this one? Where's the naked ad campaign for the last of this species? What about the endanged species act?

    May 17, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Cathy W

    Lots of folks have been mentioning Cowpox and the more modern disease that are/were used to create the vaccine. That is only what was used to create modern vaccinations. Prior to Edward Jenner, people used a process of innoculation: Powered smallpox scabs (ie damaged virus) were introduced to the healthy person – the ancient Chinese would blow the powered scabs up the noses of healthy people. Cotton Mather and Lady Montagu, and the Turks used other methods. The risk was high by modern standards: about 1/2 to 1% died from the innoculations themselves, but most people got a mild case of the disease and recovered quickly. And only 2-5% of those people died during epidemics (vs 20-30% of non innoculated people).

    May 17, 2011 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. zadoc

    I don't think we should, because what if it's not that last one and then we need it for research after an attack?
    What do you think?
    Poll: http://www.wepolls.com/r/422999

    May 17, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hillytoo

      I agree. Its arrogant to think that we know everything there is to know about the virus.At some point in the future there may be techniques that we don't yet have that could tell us much more about all deadly viruses.

      May 17, 2011 at 22:15 | Report abuse |
  31. fritz

    No, don't destroy them. It would be a loss to science and a crime against nature. Besides, it is a buffer to combat the Earth's ecosystem's current deadliest disease-we humans.

    May 17, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Earanán

      If you consider humans a "disease" then feel free to "cure" yourself. Rope, tall building, gun in the mouth...

      But hurry, every day you "infect" the planet it just gets worse.

      May 17, 2011 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
  32. sw

    1. If it comes back we will by definition have new samples.
    2. We have HUGE stockpiles of vaccine and we can make more since the vaccine is Vacinnia, NOT Variola.
    3. We have smallpox sequenced, and we have similar virus' like Vaccinia that we can study.
    4. most of our military has been vaccinated for smallpox over the last 8 years, therefore we are pretty safe from someone using it as a weapon (it may kill some people but we can get most of our population vaccinated within 5 days and be able to save most of them)
    5. so there is no need to keep it around, just in case. It it sort of like keeping a box of plutonium under your bed, "just in case".
    6. all those people whining about "killing" off another species, is a virus even really a life form?

    May 17, 2011 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. WWRRD

    Do not destroy the last samples. Virus' mutate. We may need those samples someday to research some related pathogen. If they are gone we do not have that option.

    May 17, 2011 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. steph

    if the virus is destroyed.. cant they get a sample again if a person ends up getting small pox??
    why do they delay on destroying the virus?

    May 17, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Joe in Colorado

    There are lots of things that can and will kill us– it doesn't mean we should destroy them. I would not wish to be responsible for the eradication of the last remaining samples of a unique life form.

    So much to learn !

    May 17, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. bozon

    NOPE! the russians have tons of weaponized "BrainPox", a genetically modified version of small pox cloned w/ encephalitis virus.. we need the original in case any of these demons leave the lab.. can't trust the russians.. biopreparat made tons and tons of biological weapons in violation of the treaty they signed.. they are still out there.. can't destroy our only hope of making a vaccine if these get lose..

    May 17, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Clown

    I don't get it, if we destroy the virus, but then it comes back anyway, can't scientists just take samples from the people that are infected with the virus? People are posting that without samples we wouldn't have a defense against another outbreak, but we have the vaccine and if there's an outbreak it's so easy to get samples.

    I don't see any reason to keep it except to threaten the use of it as a bioweapon. Kind of like how we have nukes that everyone says we'd never use because it would destroy the earth, but we have then anyway.

    May 17, 2011 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. kite005

    As long as the 2 known stockpiles are secure keeping them around would seem to be the safe thing to do in case the disease somehow resurfaces. It would be nice to have the material to run tests on if needed.

    May 17, 2011 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. NotareligousNUT

    @comfortinprayer. This comment section is about whether or not we should eradicate the smallpox virus. Go save someone else with your rethoric. The world will not end on the 21st of May, and if it rains, I'll take an umbrella not an ark. As for the rest of us who want to stay on topic, I say greatly reduce the amount of the virus. Have only one or two of top maticulous, diligent, experienced scientists study the virus at a time and when we can't learn anything more, kill it. There is no practical use for the virus that warrants keeping such a threat to humanity on ice.

    May 17, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Antonio Velasquez Jr.

    What seems to be the problem? Small pox virus and the hundreds of other-sons of man made-life fabric destroying chemicals ? So what else is new ? Just do onto others as they do onto you.I can not wait for the day of festivities to begin,along with hundreds of thousands of other well prepared men,women and children. If they so chose,it will only be described as the greatest mardi gra that the planet has ever known. Freedom will be full blown and there will be nowhere to run,nowhere to fly and nowhere to hide.

    May 17, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Karend

    Why it is OK to exterminate a virus but not the Polar bears or Sumatran Tigers? All serve a purpose in nature. We have yet to discover the usefulness or the pupose of the smallpox virus or the polio virus or malaria or TB. We have come very close to anihilating TB and polio only to find it comes back stronger and more virulent. It is interesting to me that the eradication failures were in Africa which is also the source of the relatively new Ebola and Human Immunodeficiency Viruses. Am I the only one who can see there may be some connection? No – I don't think it's a good idea to eliminate an entire species until we understand the consequences of our actions.

    May 17, 2011 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Rachel

    Read "The Demon in the Freezer" by Richard Preston. It's about the eradication of smallpox and the samples which are held by the US and Russia. Interestingly enough, all of the vaccine was destroyed YEARS ago, but we're still hanging onto the actual virus.

    May 17, 2011 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hillytoo

      I read it. Amazing book. I loaned it to my doctor...scared the kakka out of him.

      May 17, 2011 at 22:21 | Report abuse |
  43. John

    Hell we got a vaccine for it why not get all of us vaccinated and then drop the samples somewhere useful, like on all our little jihadist buddies in the middle east. let's see how well they jihad when they're covered in pus and sores .....yeah yeah yeah probably to extreme a comment for most of you liberal hippies or startch collared conservatives ....but look at the comment at face value here we have a way of distroying our enemies who want nothing more than the entire annhilation of all of us and we're just going to destroy it ....not just no but hell no give it to those guys in gitmo and let them go take it home to their 5 wives and 40 kids

    May 17, 2011 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Doug

    Destroy it, if they don’t it will come back to haunt us. Some nut job scientist who has access to it in the future may get it and release it. You never know

    May 17, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Antonio Velasquez Jr.

    When to many certain birds of a feather commence to incompetently flock together,we have to bring out and utilyze our stockpile of horrorfying,disfiguring and dismembering anti diabolical chemicals.We must and will keep in mind this absolutely imperative strategic defense. No one can ever equal nor surpass our level of expertise,authority and beauty.We will make their skins melt. GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND AFFILIATES.

    May 17, 2011 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Antonio Velasquez Jr.

    How is that for bold ,beautiful and TRUE ? UNITED WE STAND UNITED WE DIE UNITED WE WILL FOREVER CONQUER.

    May 17, 2011 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. R Traci

    If a Kiwi can become extinct, why not smallpox?

    May 17, 2011 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Gill Avila

    Keep it in secure places. If Stephen Hawking's worst-case scenario ans aliens come around to look us up we may need a doomsday virus to render the planet uninhabitable. Think "The War of the Worlds."

    May 17, 2011 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Frangible

    Destroying the last lab samples may not actually eradicate it. It could still be surviving somewhere in a crystallized or a mutated form. Viruses are quickly evolving and more difficult to eradicate than we thought. There are many viruses in the smallpox family that are still around in great numbers, and any one of them could someday mutate into the next smallpox, or super-smallpox.

    Interestingly, no one knows where the current virus we use to immunize against smallpox came from. We started using cowpox, then it was realized we weren't using cowpox at all anymore. There is no evidence of it previously existing or being present in other species.

    Destroying the lab samples is a political move. At Russia's VECTOR and the US's CDC there are a number of very nasty things that would kill a lot of people if they got out, but both labs have proven themselves to be responsible and secure. It doesn't really reduce the risk of much at all. But it does mean we won't have samples to learn from in the future if the need arises. And we do not know everything, nor are we even completely certain that smallpox is eradicated. It *seems* eradicated, but how many millions of lives would you bet on that?

    May 17, 2011 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Antonio Velasquez Jr.

    Think about all that body fluids oozing out all over the place.who is to say that with a little rain fall it just might all clear up ?

    May 17, 2011 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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