10 Updates

Why We Should Never Completely Destroy Smallpox

May 12 2014, 5:55am CDT | by

My grandfather used to keep all sorts of things in the trunk of his car: Fishing gear, duct tape, aluminum foil, a large chain, a defused WWII hand grenade. When we asked why he squirreled away such...

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11 weeks ago

Why We Should Never Completely Destroy Smallpox

May 12 2014, 5:55am CDT | by

My grandfather used to keep all sorts of things in the trunk of his car: Fishing gear, duct tape, aluminum foil, a large chain, a defused WWII hand grenade. When we asked why he squirreled away such a random assortment of items, he would shrug and say, “Just in case.”

That, in a nutshell, is why we should never destroy the smallpox virus. Just in case we need it someday.

This month, the World Health Assembly (WHA) will once again debate the future of smallpox virus. Currently, there are two locations with smallpox stockpiles approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). One is located at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the other at the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Russia. Since the 1980s, WHO-approved smallpox research has been conducted in only these two laboratories.

But, that may be coming to an end. According to an op-ed written in PLoS Pathogens, decision makers are leaning toward destroying the stockpiles and ending research.

This is a terrible idea, for at least four reasons.

First, the world would have to trust Russia to destroy all of its smallpox. Russia is, to put it diplomatically, not a trustworthy partner. The former Soviet Union signed a 1972 treaty, called the Biological Weapons Convention , that banned biological weapons. After signing it, the Soviets increased production of those weapons. It wasn’t until 1992, under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, that the program actually came to an end . (Or, so they say.)

Considering that Russia sells weapons to murderous tyrants like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, maintains friendly relations with North Korea , and invades smaller, defenseless neighbors like Ukraine (while simultaneously denying that they are conducting an invasion), the notion that Russia might be lying about biological weapons research is not terribly far-fetched.

Second, the fate of the Soviet biological weapons is unknown. It is entirely possible that weapons, vials of smallpox, or unemployed scientists ended up in places like Iran .

Third, every once in a while, there is a smallpox scare from historical samples. What was thought to be a 135-year-old smallpox scab turned up in a museum in 2011. It ended up not being smallpox (but possibly a related virus known as Vaccinia). Still, the possibility of smallpox viruses surviving in old human tissue samples is a real enough threat. In an e-mail interview with RealClearScience, Dr. Inger Damon, the lead author of the PLoS Pathogens article, wrote, “The virus is highly stable when frozen; periodically the question of viable virus existing in corpses buried in the northern permafrost is posed, but remains unanswered.”

Fourth, as the op-ed authors indicate, there is still much basic research to be done. For instance, it is unknown why smallpox only infects humans. Comparing smallpox to other related viruses will help enhance our understanding of virology. Additionally, further research will improve smallpox diagnostics and vaccines, in the event that something unthinkable occurs.

For these reasons, smallpox stockpiles should not be destroyed for the foreseeable future.

Conservative Seattle radio host David Boze agrees. He even suggested a radical solution: Put smallpox on the endangered species list. Sure, smallpox isn’t as cute as a polar bear, but it’s several times more deadly. Maybe we should keep it around — you know, just in case.

Source : Damon IK, Damaso CR, McFadden G (2014). “Are We There Yet? The Smallpox Research Agenda Using Variola Virus.” PLoS Pathog 10(5): e1004108. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004108

This article was originally published at RealClearScience .

 
Update
10

7 weeks ago

RM47mil KWSG contributions still unclaimed

Jun 9 2014 7:54am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: About RM47 million of contributions in the Teachers Provident Fund (KWSG) still remain unclaimed, the Dewan Ra ...
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Update
9

7 weeks ago

Gold shop lost almost RM1mil

Jun 9 2014 3:50am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KANGAR: A gold shop owner lost almost RM1 million after after the safe on in his shop was broken in ...
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Update
8

7 weeks ago

Motion to debate MAS losses in Dewan Rakyat rejected

Jun 9 2014 3:39am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: AN emergency motion to debate the losses incurred by Malaysia Airlines last year, amounting to RM1.2 billion was rejected by the ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
7

7 weeks ago

MH370 Tragedy: Hisham: RM27.6 mil spent on 1st phase of SAR

Jun 9 2014 2:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia spent some RM27.6 million in its first phase of the search operations for missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, said Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein. ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
6

7 weeks ago

9.1m litres of diesel seized in a month

Jun 8 2014 1:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism ministry has seized some 9.1 million litres of diesel and property worth RM58 million since mounting ‘Operasi Diesel Selatan’ i ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
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5

7 weeks ago

Girl, 9, awarded RM2.78m compensation for medical negligence

Jun 6 2014 4:56am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: A nine-year-old girl who suffered brain damage during her birth at a government hospital was awarded over RM2.78 ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
4

7 weeks ago

Malaysia's total trade in April up 12pc

Jun 5 2014 11:52pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade in April 2014 rose by 12 per cent from a year ago to RM123.86 billion due to growing trading activities, International Trade and Industry Ministe ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
3

7 weeks ago

Works Ministry to spend RM20m for upgrading works at 50 accident black spots

Jun 4 2014 11:35pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

JOHOR BARU: The Works Ministry will implement upgrading works at 50 accident prone locations in the country that have been identified this year involving an allocation of RM20 ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
2

7 weeks ago

Najib launches loan scheme for Ramadan traders

Jun 4 2014 10:24pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today launches RM45 million Ramadan ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
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1

7 weeks ago

Residents bring up objection against Kidex to Suhakam

Jun 4 2014 4:49am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: A group of 20 Petaling Jaya residents held a meeting with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) over their objection against the proposed RM2.2 billion Kinrara Damansara Skyway (Ki ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 

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