Short Cuts

All you need to read in the other general journals

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 25 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3219

Don’t destroy the last remaining smallpox samples, plead experts

Two public health experts have urged the World Health Assembly not to destroy the final remaining stocks of smallpox virus, ahead of a forthcoming meeting. On the agenda are the only two known stocks of the virus, currently stored securely at sites in the US and Russia.

Researchers need live variola to develop vaccines and antivirals—the only defences against a global pandemic should variola re-emerge. Half the world’s population was born after vaccination programmes ended in the 1980s. They have no immunity whatsoever. When global eradication of smallpox was declared in 1980, remaining stocks were transferred to protected sites, but there is no international verification that the process was complete, write the experts.

Work on vaccines and antivirals is only half finished and must be allowed to continue. Not least because this work has important implications for other threats, including a related virus called monkey pox. Monkey pox is already a serious public health problem in central Africa, where reported infections have increased 20-fold in the 30 years since it was first discovered.

Destroying the only remaining samples of variola would be particularly bad news for the populations of central and sub-Saharan Africa, where a pandemic would hit hardest. Simply hoping for the best is not enough for them, or for anyone else, the experts write. Researchers working on smallpox must be allowed to finish what they started.

Selenium improves quality of life for people with mild Graves’ orbitopathy

Even mild Graves’ orbitopathy can be hard to live with, so researchers are currently looking for well tolerated active treatments that work better than the current strategy, which is to “wait and see.” The trace mineral selenium improved patients’ quality of life in a recent European trial, and it also seemed to slow progression of eye disease compared with placebo. Pentoxyphilline, another candidate treatment tested in the same trial, did neither

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