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Should the US and Russia destroy their stocks of smallpox virus?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 12 April 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:775
  1. John O Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health
  1. US Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20201
  1. john.agwunobi{at}

    Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, but the virus still exists in WHO controlled depositories. Edward Hammond maintains that stocks should be destroyed to prevent the disease re-emerging, but John Agwunobi insists further research is essential for global security

    NO: Smallpox, one of the great killers in human history,1 remains dangerous. Malicious use of smallpox remains a threat because almost certainly clandestine stocks exist.2 3 4 Despite the 33rd World Health Assembly's endorsement of the recommendation that all countries should destroy all live smallpox virus stocks, or transfer them to World Health Organization authorised, maximum containment repositories, we cannot be certain this is the case.2 3 4 The United States believes that the global community should avoid any action that would jeopardise the important research on Variola virus conducted at the two authorised repositories of the virus. Destroying the virus would be irreversible and short sighted, for the reasons spelt out below.

    Continuing danger

    Smallpox poses an important public health risk, particularly since the population has no immunity …

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