smallpox extinction

Nicholas Landau nlandau at
Thu Jan 25 13:20:48 EST 1996

<emailname at> writes:

>ŒAfter several stays of execution, the smallpox virus,
>one of the biggest killers in history, is back on death row.¹
>(NY Times, January 25, 1996)

>We would like to hear you opinion about the recommendation
>of the governing board of the World Health Organization
>that the last two remaining stocks of the smallpox virus,
>in Russia and the United States, be destroyed by June 30, 1999.

>Thanking you in advance,

>dr Joseph van den Broek
>editor in chief BIOnieuws
>Netherlands Biology Association (NIBI)
>email 76631.1366 at

I do not think that this is such a good idea.

First, I don't believe smallpox virus is extinct.  There are very
likely repositories of the virus managed by humans which are not
publically acknowledged.  I don't mean to imply a conspiracy, but
research scientists are an untidy lot, and it is very likely that
labs which once studied ways to beat the virus still have stocks
in the bottom of some forgotten freezer.

It is also likely that smallpox virus remains viable in places like
human corpses.  I was talking to Russell Hill once, and he mentioned
that pathogens had shown a great ability to remain viable in
human corpses in artic regions, where they may be frozen or at
low temperatures for years.

Should one person become exposed to smallpox from a source such as
those mentioned above, an outbreak can result.  Does humanity want
to experience such an outbreak without the ability to inoculate
possible victims?

Keep in mind that an entire generation has been born with no
immunity to this terrible disease.  To imagine that one of
humanity's most lethal adversaries has been utterly beaten
is premature and dangerously arrogant.

Let the USA and Russia keep their stores of smallpox virus.
Should one country wish to use the disease in war (a move
which neither country has ever threatened, to my knowledge,)
then the other would easily be able to inoculate its populace.
These stores of virus are less of a threat than are future
outbreaks of smallpox.

To do otherwise could be a terrible mistake.

Nick Landau
Rutgers University
nlandau at

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