The recent news of the World Health Organization (WHO) deferring the decision to eradicate the smallpox virus until 2014, has begged the question - Why is it still around anyway?
In the 18th-19th centuries, when the disease was rife, there was up to a 30% mortality rate. The disease was characterised by fever, tiredness and a distinctive 'bumpy' rash. The Variola virus that causes Smallpox originated 3,000 years ago in Egypt but was eradicated in 1979 and a highly effective vaccine was developed.
However, some countries (USA and Russia) have stocks of the virus which are used for 'research purposes' and WHO have agreed not to destroy these remaining stocks of viruses...yet.
Countries voted for or against destroying the remaining stocks yesterday with no uniform decision being reached. Iran and 7 other countries were for destroying the virus to prevent accidental release, whereas other countries such as the USA and Russia were against.
Arguments for the eradication of the virus; prevents accidental release, final step in fully eradicating the disease and.. no more smallpox.
However, arguments against eradication include; further research into the virus in case it was to come back or be used as a biological weapon.
But we have a vaccine? - Well if the virus could be slightly genetically modified or mutated, rendering the vaccine useless, then a new vaccine would have to be developed. It's also not possible for anyone to say that they are 100% certain that there are no smallpox strains in the environment.
Personally? We've had these stocks of smallpox for 30 years without the disease being accidentally released, so surely there's no harm in keeping them if they can help research into the disease and other viral diseases?
So, to destroy or not to destroy? (that is the question)
Well the WHO have until 2014 until they have to discuss this topic again...
Kurt Gödel's Open World
10 hours ago in The Curious Wavefunction