New York -: While moving, scientists find several test tubes with the smallpox virus in US health department store near the capital, Washington. They probably came from the 1950s and were simply forgotten - smallpox is one of the most dangerous infectious diseases in the world. The test tubes were immediately brought to safety and people were never in danger, the US Infectious Disease Control Agency quickly assured.
But incidents like this make many people fear of smallpox flare up again. The early symptoms of the disease include high fever and fatigue. After that, characteristic blisters develop, especially on the face, arms and legs.
The disease, which began in the 18th In the 17th century, 60 million people died in Europe alone, the last regular occurrence in 1977 in Somalia. Shortly afterwards, the World Health Organization officially declared smallpox to be eradicated following global vaccination program. A huge success.
All remaining smallpox virus stocks in laboratories should also be destroyed, as the WHO decided at its 49th annual meeting 20 years ago on May 25, 1996. The deadline was set for the summer of 1999 - but even more than 15 years later, the last official stocks are still stored in US and Russian laboratory.
The WHO has deadlines and final decisions again and again adjourned. At meeting that is currently taking place, it is again on the agenda, said WHO spokesman. Whether decision will be made this time is not yet in sight.
"The main cause is political," says David Evans, medical doctor at the university in Alberta, Canada, who has been studying smallpox for years. The responsible politicians wavered between fear of bio-terrorism and the need to research the viruses. “In the US, final decision is bit on hold right now. And in Russia they just go with them, they won't destroy their stocks until the US destroys them, that's matter of national pride. "
The stocks are safe, says Evans, who inspects both laboratories several times Has. The viruses are located near Novosibirsk in Russia and in Atlanta in the US state of Georgia. "The viruses are guarded by men with weapons, among others." The danger that the pathogen could get into the hands of terrorists is extremely low, says the doctor. "Nowadays, terrorists could reproduce them synthetically, that would be much easier than stealing the viruses."
However, research on smallpox could be scaled down significantly, if not stopped entirely, says Evans. “We have good drug for smallpox, some good vaccines and good diagnostic tools. I am not convinced that the ongoing research is of any value. ”
What about eliminating the viruses completely? That is going too far, says Evans. “We should leave them where they are, lock them up and monitor them. If we should need them again - for whatever reason - then we have them and don't have to reproduce them synthetically. "