Smallpox extinction

Ryan Doherty rdoherty at
Tue Sep 7 19:35:50 EST 1999

113141.44 at wrote:

> On 30 Aug 1999 13:41:41 -0700, Robert Means <remeans at>
> wrote:
> >Hello All,
> >       What do people think? Should the "last" smallpox stock be
> >destroyed or kept stored for future scientific use?
> >Bob
> I believe it is essential that the existing (known) stocks of smallpox
> virus be preserved, for two reasons:
> 1/ there are no guarantees that separate stocks are not being held by
> individuals or governments who may release the virus at some future
> date, infecting a world-wide human population where there is no-longer
> any active immunity to the disease.  The results would be horrific and
> extremely damaging to world economies.
> Related to this point, if such stocks had been genetically
> manipulated, existing vaccines may be ineffective.  The continued
> storage of 'wild-type' virus would enable comparisons to be made
> between the wild-type and the new strain(s) and may be useful in the
> development of new vaccine.  Although such development and scaling-up
> of production of an effective vaccine would take time, the loss of
> many human lives is preferable to the decimation of populations which
> would otherwise occur.
> 2/ Mankind's knowledge of the living world is still in its infancy.
> It would be arrogant to assume that we know everything there is to
> know about smallpox and its interactions with all other free-living
> organisms.  The virus may yet turn out to have an unexpected quality
> which we can turn to our own advantage.
> The 'officially' held stocks of smallpox are (I trust) safe from
> accidental release by any means.  Let's not be hasty in our desire to
> destroy them.  After all, there are many more dangerous bacteria and
> viruses in the world (e.g. bacillus anthracis, clostridium botulinum,
> yersinia pestis, ebola etc) which are not very difficult for
> individuals and governments to obtain, culture and disperse if they
> choose to do-so.  Mankind is in danger from a lot more than a few
> aliquots of smallpox !!

How can anyone know that smallpox has been completely eradicated?  I know
that mass vaccinations had resulted in zero incidence of smallpox, but is
it not possible that smallpox may still exist outside of the known stock
(i.e., in nature)?  Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't smallpox
occurrence related to cowpox occurrence (I'm talking about over 100 years
ago); and don't cowpox outbreaks still occur?

Just a few questions that I know you can easily clarify for me.

Ryan Doherty
B.Sc. Biochemistry & Biotechnology Hnrs II
Carleton University

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