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Smallpox Extermination Proposal Stirs Scientists

At a September 9 meeting in Geneva, the 10-member WHO Ad Hoc Committee on Orthopoxvirus Infections unanimously agreed that the potential costs to humanity from biological warfare or inadvertent outbreaks of the disease outweigh its research benefits to Science--especially when there are alternatives to using the live virus for scientific investigations. Advocates of preserving the viral stores argue, however, that given the powerfu

Karen Kreeger
Eminent virologists from around the world are reacting strongly--both for and against--a recommendation made in September by a World Health Organization (WHO) committee to destroy all remaining stores of the smallpox virus.

At a September 9 meeting in Geneva, the 10-member WHO Ad Hoc Committee on Orthopoxvirus Infections unanimously agreed that the potential costs to humanity from biological warfare or inadvertent outbreaks of the disease outweigh its research benefits to Science--especially when there are alternatives to using the live virus for scientific investigations.

Advocates of preserving the viral stores argue, however, that given the powerful microbiological tools that have been devised in the recent past, it is short-sighted and foolish to get rid of the live virus just yet. They contend that information that is likely to be discovered in the smallpox genome could help fight other deadly viral pathogens, most notably HIV.

"To me, on a scientific basis,...

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