Smallpox redux: World body suggests keeping the virus

12:05pm, January 23, 2002

In response to fears following the Sept. 11 attacks, the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO) last week voted against a 2002 deadline for destruction of the variola virus responsible for smallpox. Meeting in Geneva on Jan. 17, the board urged the United States and Russia to retain stocks of the virus so scientists can complete research on them.

Smallpox was a devastating disease for many centuries, and it still infected 50 million people annually during the 1950s. Following an intensified vaccination campaign and the successful worldwide eradication of the disease in the late 1970s, health officials prepared to destroy the last known stores of the virus–held in two top-security labs, one in the United States and the other in Russia.

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