Officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) have decided that researchers will get another chance to do research on the potentially deadly smallpox virus before the remaining supplies of the material are destroyed.
In a statement, the United Nations agency said the research would be “carried out under the very careful control of WHO.” The recommendation to destroy the virus has been on hold for a number of years as researchers debated whether more work on the virus needs to put done—particularly in light of the threat that unknown stockpiles of the virus may still exist and could be used in terrorist attacks.
“In their deliberations, the experts defined the following areas in which research could usefully be conducted before the end of 2002: sequencing more completely the DNA of the smallpox virus; devising tests to detect smallpox infection in humans; and developing drugs to treat human smallpox infections, should they reappear,” the agency said in a released statement.
“WHO will approve and review all future research on variola virus.” The agency promised to set up an inspection schedule to ensure that existing smallpox virus stocks are sequestered from possible accidental release. They will also make sure that any research involving the virus will be done in a safe and secure environment. The known stocks of smallpox virus are kept in high-security laboratories at the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the Russian State Center for Research on Virology and Biotechnology in Novosibirsk.
WHO had previously planned to destroy the viral material on June 30, 1999; however, at the annual assembly of the health organization, ≥30 nations called for more research into antiviral agents to fight infection and improved vaccines to protect populations. Smallpox was declared eradicated from the Earth in 1980, and vaccination against the disease has been ended across the globe. Many fear that a terrorist attack could revive the disease, which could devastate populations that have virtually no protection against the viral infection.
- Copyright © 2000 by American Heart Association