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Thread: Smallpox- should it be kept or 'destroyed'?

  1. #1 Smallpox- should it be kept or 'destroyed'? 
    Forum Bachelors Degree x(x-y)'s Avatar
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    So, there has been a bit on the news- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13360794- recently about smallpox and the case of whether the last two known remaining stockpiles (in the US and Russia) should be kept or destroyed completely, as the 64th World Health Assembly must come to a decsion.

    I, personally, think the stocks should be kept just incase of a biological weapon attack which uses smallpox or a variant of it- so that vaccines etc can still be given. Also, the reservers of it should be kept in order to continue with research upon diseases such as smallpox which have high mortality rates concerned with them- getting rid of it would just be an emotional decision and not a rational and logical one; which is what science (especially concerned with disease) needs. However, I acknowledge the fact that the stocks of it must be kept extremely safe with no risk whatsoever of a leak of the deadly virus.

    So, what do you think should happen to it?


    "Nature doesn't care what we call it, she just does it anyway" - R. Feynman
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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    They should be kept, it's also unlikely that China, Japan, and maybe some European countries don't have their own stockpiles. Accidental exposure poses little risk because a localized vaccine program could nip it in the bud with limited casualties. The benefits of keeping the stockpiles for research and potential protection against some nation with a secret stockpile using a weaponized strain outweigh the risk.

    Personally, I think the fear of bioweapons is a little overmuch, they've been using weaponized anthrax since WWII. With current levels of technology the notion of developing any weapon beyond spreading an already existing disease is science fiction. Moreover, bombs at the moment kill more people more effectively than any viruses or bacteria.


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    Forum Professor Zwirko's Avatar
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    There are several hundred strains of smallpox currently in storage, very few of which have been studied or sequenced. I think it might be foolish to destroy them all.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    We have no choice in the matter. The military will not permit them to be destroyed.

    Personally, if I could wave my magic wand, I would destroy them in an instant. They are horrendously dangerous! We think of classical smallpox, but that is not what the world would face. It is now possible, by genetic manipulation to enhance the lethality and infectiousness of these viruses, and make a super-smallpox. This would not, of course, be accidentally released. Its release would be very deliberate. Such release could kill billions of people. It would be the smallpox version of ebola.

    The reason I say this, is that it has been done with mousepox, which is the rodent equivalent. A new form of mousepox was created which was massively more lethal and infectious. Fortunately, not to people.

    In my more pessimistic moments, I think that this has probably already been done to smallpox by the military in the USA and in Russia.
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  6. #5  
    Forum Professor Zwirko's Avatar
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    I think study of the virus is more important than its destruction, for two reasons: 1) smallpox could re-emerge from the wild one day, maybe, and 2) physical destruction of virus stockpiles still leaves us with genome sequences sitting in various databases that can be used to recreate the virus or something related. Getting rid of the physical samples would thus seem to create a false sense of security; "know thine enemy", as they say.

    If you opt for destruction of stored samples, and cessation of study, you'd really need to delete all genomic data too.
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