Selasa, 08 Februari 2011

Smallpox - Gone Forever?

A deadly viral disease called smallpox killed several hundred million people in the 1800s. Thanks to the development of smallpox vaccines and a concerted effort worldwide, the disease was finally declared eradicated in 1979. To this day, smallpox is the only infectious human disease ever wiped out completely.

Nevertheless, the spectre of a return of smallpox remains. That’s because more than 500 vials containing the smallpox virus remain in tightly guarded, allegedly secure facilities in the U.S. and Russia. The question is, what to do with these vials? Some scientists and politicians (particularly in the U.S. and Russia) argue that stocks of the smallpox virus are still needed for research and for the development of new diagnostics, safer vaccines, and effective antiviral drugs. Others argue that over the past several decades we’ve learned just about all we can about the virus, and that the mere existence of these vials represents a risk that some day the disease could return, particularly if a vial were to fall into the hands of terrorists.

The World Health Organization (WHO) will decide in May whether to recommend a firm deadline for the final destruction of all remaining vials. But don’t count on the elimination of every last smallpox virus from the planet any time soon, even if a deadline is announced. An earlier deadline of 1990 was postponed indefinitely when both the U.S. and Russia argued against it. It’s more likely that a compromise will be reached to reduce stockpiles without eliminating them completely.

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