On Dec. 31, 1993, the last stores of the smallpox (variola) virus were to be destroyed simultaneously in Russia and the United States, according to an agreement arranged through the World Health Organization (WHO). If the agreement had been effected, it would have been the first intentional destruction of a human disease and its causative organism. The date has passed, however, and the stores remain intact.

But researchers throughout the world who have been studying the orthopoxviruses--the array of poxviruses endemic to many animal species--and who have been clamoring for a five- to 10-year reprieve for variola for potential further study do not consider this a complete victory, since the fate of the virus is yet to be finally decided.

WHO's Committee on Orthopoxvirus Infections, which originally recommended the destruction of the smallpox virus, now is awaiting the completion of sequencing of the viral genome, being done at the Centers...

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