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US Preserves Smallpox For Defense

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the it's-not-mine-i-swear dept.

Medicine 248

lee1 writes "The US is preserving the last remaining known strains of smallpox in case they are needed to develop bio-warfare 'countermeasures' and as a hedge against possible outbreaks in a population with no natural immunity. 451 specimens are stored in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control, and 120 strains at the Russian Vector laboratory in Siberia. Meanwhile, the government has contracted to pay almost $3 billion to procure 14 million smallpox vaccination doses."

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I think we can put our differences behind us... (2, Funny)

LordStormes (1749242) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167770)

... for science... ... you monster...

Re:I think we can put our differences behind us... (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167830)

Cara bel, cara mia bella. Mia bambina, a tra che la stima che la stima. A cara mia, addio! Mia bambina cara, perche non passi lontana si lontana de scienza? Cara cara mia bambina. A mia bel. A mia cara. A mia cara. A mia bambina. A cara, cari a mi!

Re:I think we can put our differences behind us... (4, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167856)

is that like a cara analogy?

Defense. (0)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168382)

He said, sneeringly.

Last time this was used for "defense", I believe it was infused into blankets at the siege of Fort Pitt. [wikimedia.org]

250 years go by, but the leopard does not change his spots so readily...

Re:Defense. (3, Informative)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168446)

Smallpox can't live more then 48 hours on blankets.

That story is an often repeated myth but is virologically impossible.

Re:Defense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168550)

People typically use blankets when they sleep, and tend to sleep every day. Seems to me that 48 hours is more than adequate, given quick delivery...

Re:Defense. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168750)

You would need a live smallpox patent in the town they were distributing the blankets in. The fastest travel at the time and place was horseback.

Which is in fact what happened. A live smallpox patent spread the virus.

Blanket conspiracies were just the 9/11 conspiracies of the day. Now they just fit in too well with the 'white people bad' narrative to give up on them.

Re:Defense. (1)

QRDeNameland (873957) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168694)

Smallpox can't live more then 48 hours on blankets.

That story is an often repeated myth but is virologically impossible.

First of all, if you read the GPs wiki link, it would seem that the spread of smallpox via infected blankets is unlikely, but not impossible. (Even by your own claim, a 48 hour infection window hardly makes this impossible.)

But more importantly, even if it were impossible, as the article states, "while it is certain that these British soldiers attempted to intentionally infect Indians with smallpox, it is uncertain whether or not their attempt was successful." Being that there was clearly the intent to infect these people, I find it difficult to qualify the claim as a "myth."

Science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167874)

Science it is, but leveraging a $3 billion budget for personal gain is all business.

(You're not in the business of government, are you?)

Re:Science? (1)

LordStormes (1749242) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168142)

Nope. Personally, I'd say spend money to have the smallpox vaccine recipe somewhere, but not to stockpile vaccines for a known dead virus. If you're concerned about Al Qaeda using smallpox as a weapon, just immunize everybody that needs it NOW. Anybody older than 35 or so (what, no birthers challenging the President's old enough to serve?) SHOULD already be vaccinated; my brother is 41 and he got the shot but I am 31 and did not.

Re:Science? (5, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168242)

The odds of them using smallpox as a weapon are too low to risk vaccinating everyone. The vaccination program would harm far more people. I don't mean that in a crazy autism way, I mean from bad reactions to the vaccine. Every vaccine has a rate at which these occur and we can compare that to the risks Al Qaeda poses. Since Al Qaeda has so far in the last 50 years killed less people in the USA than farm animals and they show no sign of getting stronger we can probably forgo the vaccinations for now.

Re:Science? THREE BILLION?? (1)

Lorens (597774) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168250)

I *have* RTFA, and I don't see where the sentence "Meanwhile, the government has contracted to pay almost $3 billion to procure 14 million smallpox vaccination doses." comes from. How much time do you need to produce the vaccine from the virus? Is it some kind of future pledge? Because otherwise maybe three big ones is a bit much for a hypothetical threat. Can an active virus be derived from the vaccine? If so you'd have to watch the vaccine as well as the virus.

Re:Science? THREE BILLION?? (5, Informative)

lee1 (219161) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168718)

The editors changed my linkage. The details for the part about the $3 billion can be found here:
http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20110516_8175.php [nti.org]

(I'm so advanced that I combined information from two sources to produce my summary.)

Re:I think we can put our differences behind us... (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168510)

Keeping the specimen does make a sense, but why the vaccine!!! WHY?

Re:I think we can put our differences behind us... (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168618)

Been reading The Stand? It's not as crazy as that. Smallpox is bad, but it won't be the end of the world. They're keeping it so that we have a point to start from if there is an outbreak.

The accent should be put... (2)

geegel (1587009) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167820)

... on the "known" part. It seems like a fairly intelligent move to me. It is indeed a low probability scenario that someone will actually release smallpox as a biological weapon, but still the consequences of such an outlier would be devastating enough to warrant the adoption of such a policy.

Re:The accent should be put... (2)

Fractal Dice (696349) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168324)

s/smallpox/arbitrary-contangious-disease/

Duh. (4, Insightful)

Random2 (1412773) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167828)

Don't see why this is news; it's not like the US is the only place with virus reserves. And, it'd be very difficult to develop a vaccine for a disease without samples to work with (unless we want to try and catch infected people and draw samples before they die, which would just increase the deaths).

Can't see how anyone besides the ultra-paranoid would see this as a problem, nukes pose a more significant and real threat than these stored samples...

Re:Duh. (2, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167904)

The thing is, right after the summary says that the U.S. is preserving the last remaining known strains it says that Russia also has some that it is preserving. So, the U.S. doesn't even have the last known strains, the Russians are also known to have some.

Re:Duh. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168212)

The US is "preserving" the Russian strains by not sending Seal Team 6 to destroy them.

Re:Duh. (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167960)

Don't see why this is news; it's not like the US is the only place with virus reserves

No kidding; The US-centric headline doesn't even read the summary. It says right there an inch underneath that Russia is keeping theirs.

Re:Duh. (1)

Moryath (553296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168614)

Russia is keeping theirs.

Who knows what is available in:
- China
- North Korea
- Vietnam
- Pakistan
- your tin-pot despotic regime of choice

That's as good a reason as possible to maintain something to work with should some asshole with "nothing to lose" decide to let it loose on the world. Especially since it's now "eradicated" and other orthopox viruses are not nearly as prevalent as they once were (the first smallpox vaccines were derived not from smallpox itself but from a related human-transmissible disease, cowpox).

Re:Duh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167976)

Can't see how anyone besides the ultra-paranoid would see this as a problem

In a century or two people will read how the latest smallpox pandemic caused by failing security in one of the storage facilities of former superpowers could have easily been prevented. This and other deadly diseases could have been eradicated long ago if humanity wouldn't have been too afraid .

Re:Duh. (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168380)

If you RTFA, that's not at all what is going on here. (Supposedly) All governments of the world have either destroyed their stockpiles, or shipped them to the repositories in the US and Russia. Since that point, the UN has been pushing for the US and Russia to destroy their final (known) stockpiles. The US government has proposed that it hold off doing so for at least another five years (not centuries), during which it will spend another three billion on vaccine research.

Re:Duh. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168218)

Can't see how anyone besides the ultra-paranoid would see this as a problem, nukes pose a more significant and real threat than these stored samples...

Completely wrong.

Release one nuke, lose one city. Sucks to be that city, but in the grand scheme of things, no big deal. For example, no one really cares that we lost New Orleans unless they have/had friends and family there... On the other hand, release enough SP to infect just one person, we end up with worldwide uncontrollable epidemic, very very bad for every living human being.

Furthermore the venn diagram of people who are experts at military style guard duty and people who have nukes in the workplace has staggering overlap, virtually 100%. The venn diagram of people who are experts at military style guard duty and bio grad students has mighty little overlap. So the odds of loose cannon nukes is staggeringly lower than loose cannon SP.

Re:Duh. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168276)

One person infected with small pox would not turn into a worldwide uncontrollable epidemic. We can make vaccines, we can close borders as much as possible (No a big fence is not possible, nor useful against those with access to ladders or shovel), and it just won't spread that fast.

Re:Duh. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168370)

We can make vaccines,

Ahh now we're getting circular. We can make vaccines quicker if we have samples of live virus ready to go/grow.

It becomes a simple equation of how many more people will die due to delays in vaccine production, vs how much does it cost to keep it locked up, which frankly is probably pretty cheap, and really cheap when divided by X number of lives...

If a human life was only worth, say, $1000, then I'd say autoclave it and spend the security money on more profitable, traditional government responsibilities like molesting airport travelers or bailing out the management of corrupt banks. But luckily, in most places, for most cultures, life isn't that cheap, so its worthwhile to spend the dough to keep the stuff ready to quickly make vaccines.

Re:Duh. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168514)

We don't though. You do not know what strain this supposed enemy would use. It is possible they selected it because it is not impacted by a normal smallpox vaccine.

Re:Duh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168702)

The typical smallpox vaccine consists of several strains that have been crippled, leaving predominantly the shells of the virus, but even if a smalllpox based virus came out that was engineered to circumvent them its going to be a lot easier to fight with existing strains being tested against actively and having the base virus on hand to manipulate independently of the new one.

Why do I invision (0)

nsanders (208050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167852)

the movie Outbreak.

Re:Why do I invision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167878)

because you're an idiot

Which part of this is news? (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167864)

Didn't everybody know this 10 years ago?

Re:Which part of this is news? (2)

magarity (164372) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167928)

Didn't everybody know this 10 years ago?

Yes, and there's some international group that puts out a recommendation for keep / don't keep every ten years. The US and Russia both ignore the no keep recommendation and it generates a news article. Expect to hear about it again in 2021.

Re:Which part of this is news? (2, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168260)

Yes but there are groups who wants to remind us that the U.S.A. isn't the model good guy. For some reason it gives these groups a feeling of self importance that they point out these things, they may not be able to feed and cloth the poor, or help improve the environment, or make anyones lives better, but they can do their part by showing that the United States of America isn't the Good Guy but a country out for its own self interest.

This is Data that will surprise only the United State Citizens who are nationalist, and thus will not believe the data anyways. Or people who just Hate the U.S. and just add it to their list of problems. But for the normal person around the world it shouldn't be a surprise at all. Like Every Country in the world it is out for its own self interest, and doesn't want to be attacked and/or taken over by an other country, if there is a threat to that they will want any advantage necessary.

Evils... (-1)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167880)

Hanging on to a microorganism that can kill millions is about as evil as evil gets.

To the autoclave they should all go. Every last one of them. And anyone who defends the existence of smallpox as a weapon should have his head examined.

Or locked up. Forever.

--
BMO

Re:Evils... (4, Insightful)

fredmosby (545378) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167936)

They're keeping the samples so they can use them to make vaccines if there is an outbreak.

Re:Evils... (1)

yurtinus (1590157) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168026)

...an outbreak that would start from where exactly? This logic seems a bit circular.

Re:Evils... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168070)

Not to mention, you don't need a smallpox sample to make smallpox vaccine.

What happens when some natural disaster hits Atlanta or Siberia and the stuff leaks? We spent a hundred years making smallpox extinct, let's finish the damn job.

Re:Evils... (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168120)

Uh, from a terrorist digging up a victim of the outbreak, or some other nations bio-weapons lab synthesizing it, or from it developing again from cowpox? Just because these are the only *known* samples doesn't mean they are the only samples in existence.

Re:Evils... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168154)

From the samples that we know the Russians are keeping? From samples that someone we don't know is keeping?

Re:Evils... (1)

the linux geek (799780) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168206)

The obvious answer would be the Russians, who have historically demonstrated a somewhat cavalier attitude towards biological warfare.

Re:Evils... (4, Insightful)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168256)

Do you know for a fact that there exists no other sources of smallpox in the world? Do you know that no country/organization other than the US/Russia has smallpox samples? Do you know that there are no remote, indigenous population that still carries smallpox? Smallpox has been eradicated from the developed world and most of the under-developed world, but no one can be sure it is completely gone.

Re:Evils... (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168306)

...an outbreak that would start from where exactly? This logic seems a bit circular.

Not circular if you assume it'll be accidentally released by the other guys.

Also the general public naively thinks only two known storage means only two storage sites exist... How exactly do you know the French don't have one? Or some dude working on it in NYC in 1960 died in '61, and they're just now getting around to defrosting and replacing his research freezer? I've often wondered what happens if some dude who died on a glacier 1000 years ago gets defrosted, and someone downstream drinks the water... On a regular basis cemeteries are dug up and moved, and before a certain era they are stuffed full of plague victims, thats just how it is... And how long can a single SP virus be preserved? Nobody really knows, although some smart people have some good guesses...

Re:Evils... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168398)

Human bodies rot a lot faster than that. How many plague corpses could possibly still be around? If you do not bother with the American burial method, preserve the body and seal it in a metal tube, humans rot as fast as any other mammal our size. You would probably be lucky to find teeth from a plague victim.

Re:Evils... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168696)

Human bodies rot a lot faster than that. How many plague corpses could possibly still be around? If you do not bother with the American burial method, preserve the body and seal it in a metal tube, humans rot as fast as any other mammal our size. You would probably be lucky to find teeth from a plague victim.

Interestingly, they have recovered [wordpress.com] Yersina pestis DNA from buried 16th century plague victims. It would be at least theoretically possible to get smallpox DNA out of buried victims. Not easy, but within the technical reach of a moderately adept molecular biology lab. Of which there are many, many examples scattered about the planet.

Re:Evils... (3, Informative)

RDW (41497) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168322)

"...an outbreak that would start from where exactly?"

Maybe from here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/2404051.stm [bbc.co.uk]

or here:

http://www.livescience.com/2403-climate-threat-thawing-tundra-releases-infected-corpses.html [livescience.com]

or even here:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-12-26-smallpox-in-envelope_x.htm [usatoday.com]

Can we assume that the declared US and Russian stocks are the last viable samples anywhere on the planet..?

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168432)

...an outbreak that would start from where exactly? This logic seems a bit circular.

Where do you think it came from to begin with?

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168060)

Can you not just collect samples when an outbreak occurs...and if an outbreak occurs, would it not be a different strain anyways? Also...is it not possible to store information about the disease and use that later rather than keeping the actual disease? Keeping a disease that has been eradicated doesn't seem to have any non military benefit that I can see...

Re:Evils... (1)

guybrush3pwood (1579937) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168140)

Oh really? Then we are A-OK!!

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168294)

The bloody virus was sequenced many times and can be reconstructed if the need be.

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168622)

--buzz-- Nope. The samples are the test base for the vaccine, AKA if the vaccine doesn't prevent the smallpox virus from going HOT AKA infecting the host, then it's not a viable vaccine. Ya gots to have the real thing to test against.

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167938)

Or have his head removed forcibly from his shoulders.

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167942)

And when we find out that a modified smallpox vaccinates against AIDS, will you still have that opinion?

Re:Evils... (1)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168056)

And when we find out that a modified smallpox vaccinates against AIDS, will you still have that opinion?

That's an argument against everything. i.e. it's useless.

Re:Evils... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167944)

How is it evil to hang onto some so that you can make a vaccination should an outbreak occur? Especially when you know that there are other stockpiles of this organism, the summary even says that the Russians have some.

Re:Evils... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168170)

Smallpox vaccine is not made from smallpox virus, it's made from cowpox virus.

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167962)

And anyone who defends the existence of smallpox as a weapon should have his head examined.

I'd prefer they be drowned in a tub of CancerAIDS.

Re:Evils... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167966)

So the US and Russian Federation toast the stock they have. 5 years later the People's Republic of China or North Korea release a mutated weaponized smallpox that no one else has a vaccine for.

Thats assuming the US and Russians are the only ones with smallpox in a vial still.

Re:Evils... (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168234)

Or assuming there are no non-lab specimens. I do not consider it out of the range of possibility that someone excavating, say, a WW1 battlefield, could find the preserved corpse of someone who was infected with smallpox (We got samples of the Spanish flu virus that way) and thus put the virus back in the wild.

Re:Evils... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168406)

Heck, we could uncover it moving a graveyard anywhere in the world, or exhuming a body for some reason.

Re:Evils... (2)

intx13 (808988) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168490)

So the US and Russian Federation toast the stock they have. 5 years later the People's Republic of China or North Korea release a mutated weaponized smallpox that no one else has a vaccine for.

Does having a tiny bit of old smallpox in a vial somewhere give you a significant advantage in making large quantities of vaccine for new mutated smallpox?

According to TFS the US is ordering 14 million smallpox vaccine doses and I don't think they're relying on the current smallpox vials to make them. It seems to me that we could kill off smallpox but still be ready to produce vaccines if a new strain broke out.

Frankly, I think the odds and resulting damage of some nation hiding weaponized smallpox all these years and intentionally releasing it are overshadowed by the odds and damage of the US accidentally releasing or losing the stored vials. Autoclave the thing and call it a day.

Re:Evils... (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#36167994)

What should we do with people with poor reading comprehension?

Re:Evils... (0)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168050)

You really believe that they are being held on to for vaccines and not weaponization?

One word.

Naive.

--
BMO

Re:Evils... (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168186)

They already have the weaponized strains and their vaccines, these are the wild strains they are talking about, only a really naive person would believe that they would talk publicly about the weaponized versions =)

Re:Evils... (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168376)

No but I'm not naive in thinking someone else won't weaponize their samples. Remember the key word in the report is "known samples". I am not naive enough to think North Korea would announce they had samples and that they haven't already weaponized them.

Re:Evils... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168572)

You're a twit who doesn't understand biological warfare OR vaccines.

First off, small pox would be a horrid biological weapon for an industrialize nation to use. We have better weapons and they can be control a hell of a lot more effectively. Small pox would be unpredictable in where the put break would occur.

Also, Small Pox came about through natural means the first time and i can do it again.

Re:Evils... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167998)

Hanging on to firearms and explosives that can kill millions is about as evil as evil gets.

To the bottom of the ociean they should all go. Every last one of them. And anyone who defends the existence of guns and bombs as weapons should have his head examined.

Or locked up. Forever.

--
BMO

Because leaving yourself defenseless means nobody will attack you.

Re:Evils... (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168048)

The problem is that if you throw all your samples into the autoclave you're now unable to develop a vaccine before an outbreak occurs. If an outbreak occurred people would be dying in the streets before you would even have enough samples incubated to start vaccine development and who knows how far it would spread before your vaccine is in full production. As is, with samples in secure locations you can develop a vaccine preemptively and start vaccinating people the minute you are aware of the outbreak. This isn't like MAD where we keep nukes to blow up the other guy if he uses his, keeping live samples of the virus actually allows us to defend against it's use. (Not to mention the small but real possibility of a natural outbreak).

Re:Evils... (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168198)

>The problem is that if you throw all your samples into the autoclave you're now unable to develop a vaccine before an outbreak occurs

You're assuming that $FOE has the same strain as you do. Because if this was /really/ about eradicating smallpox and making vaccines, laboratories around the world would have all the same strains and share with each other.

No, the only reason to really keep these around is for offensive purposes.

>you can develop a vaccine preemptively and start vaccinating people the minute you are aware of the outbreak.

Think for a second. You can't preemptively create a vaccine because you don't know what strain $FOE has used until he's used it. And weaponized smallpox is not the same as smallpox from the 18'th century or Ghana or wherever.

--
BMO

Re:Evils... (1)

alistairg (126792) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168208)

Smallpox vaccines are not made from smallpox virus. They are made from a virus called vaccinia. Stocks of smallpox are not needed to make vaccines.

Re:Evils... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168290)

No but stockpiles are needed to do research on smallpox genetics.

Re:Evils... (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168300)

Someone mod this up informative if true.

Wait, it is.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccinia [wikipedia.org]

--
BMO

RE: Stocks of smallpox are not needed (1)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168538)

See my other post on this. And yes you are correct that smallpox virus is not required to MAKE the vaccines.

Try this thought on for size though. Do you really want to test a smallpox vaccine on anything other than the deadly cousin of the vaccine's organizm, aka the REAL smallpox virus?

Re:Evils... (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168524)

Smallpox has taught us a great deal about diseases and how to cure them, including novel methods that have lead to cures for other diseases. The study of it has barely scratched the surface.

Destroying it and taking your closed-minded, narrow approach is like throwing out "OtherOS" on the PS3 because it can be used to facility game piracy. That's the only possible use for it, right?

Just checking.

Smallpox exists outside the lab ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168546)

Hanging on to a microorganism that can kill millions is about as evil as evil gets. To the autoclave they should all go. Every last one of them. And anyone who defends the existence of smallpox as a weapon should have his head examined.

The problem is that the disease still exists outside of labs. Some victims were far enough north that they were buried in permafrost regions. Note that this fact has been the inspiration for numerous movies and tv shows. Also note that those concerned about global warming are also concerned about smallpox.

"The search for variola viruses surviving even longer was pursued in 1991 near Novosibirsk, Russia (9). "Bioweapons experts" searched for the variola virus in 19th-century smallpox victims mummified in the permafrost above the Arctic Circle. In the event of unusual thawing and flooding, the concern was that these corpses might become exposed and release infectious virus into the environment. In the 19th century, this region of Russia (Sakha Republic) was "ravaged by smallpox strains of extraordinary lethality" (9). Isolating and comparing them with preserved modern strains might identify genes contributing to virulence. To date, no live variola viruses have been isolated from Sakha. But the threat now is that "a sophisticated terrorist team might go smallpox hunting on the permafrost" (9)"
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol11no05/04-0616.htm [cdc.gov]

There has even been discussions regarding investigations of crypts in Europe:

"In the absence of reliable survival data some experts have advised the routine vaccination of archaeologists who might handle well preserved corpses"
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1008009/pdf/brjindmed00145-0079.pdf [nih.gov]

So does the UK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36167908)

It's been rumored for a long time that the UK has stocks at the Porton Down labs. Just to help development of countermeasures, of course.

long term security comes to mind (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168008)

over time, complacency will rot security, and over time, creative malintentioned individuals or organizations will exploit that. a smallpox outbreak would be like 10-100 9/11s or 10-100 fukushimas. destruction then seems preferable. you don't even need an actual smallpox virus to make a vaccine

but you are operating against human psychology: we aren't made to discard such power, even if the power is completely malicious

it may sound odd, but consider the lord of the rings, when humans had the chance to destroy the one ring, but chose to keep it instead. yes, its fiction, but all potent fiction is rooted in real human psychology, or such fiction wouldn't have any resonance or attraction to us in terms of storytelling ability. and with the lord of the rings we have valuable insight into how our own weaknesses and greed and lust for power hurt us in the long term

we won't destroy smallpox. and we will be hurt by that decision, many years from now

Re:long term security comes to mind (1)

jnaujok (804613) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168180)

or 10-100 fukushimas

So 100 times zero deaths?

Or do you think Fukushima *caused* the earthquake and tsunami that was 10 times the size it was designed to withstand? Can we please stop ripping on the reactor that is surviving rather well compared to the design. If you tell me you can lift 100# and I give you a 1000# weight and then complain about how quickly your back snapped, is that fair?

And we don't need to "unleash the evil" of smallpox. There's a good chance that, somewhere out in a jungle somewhere, is an animal carrying a variant of the smallpox virus (like cowpox) that will have a sudden mutation that allows it to pass to humans. If we don't keep these viruses so we can study them, then when that pandemic hits, you can add a x20 multiplier to the number of people who will die before a vaccine or cure can be developed.

Re:long term security comes to mind (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168678)

And we don't need to "unleash the evil" of smallpox. There's a good chance that, somewhere out in a jungle somewhere, is an animal carrying a variant of the smallpox virus (like cowpox) that will have a sudden mutation that allows it to pass to humans. If we don't keep these viruses so we can study them, then when that pandemic hits, you can add a x20 multiplier to the number of people who will die before a vaccine or cure can be developed.

QFT.

And where does anyone get the idea that smallpox released would lead to some worldwide extinction-type event?

We've faced smallpox before, before we had vaccines. Yes, it killed many people. No, it did not kill all or even most people.

Re:long term security comes to mind (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168192)

Smallpox has a real world chance of being found in the world naturally.

It has been less than 50 years. therefore the chance of it coming back is possible. The best defense is to keep limited supplies available to make vaccines immediately which will be able to protect people right away as opposed to 6 months later after it has killed a whole bunch of people.

Vaccines take lots of time. If you want a million doses you have to plan 6-9 months out in advance. That is why some years the annual Flu shot comes up short. they either didn't make enough, or had batches go bad and are coming up short.

Even a mutated strain can still be slowed down by a vaccine which will give people more of a chance than they would have had otherwise.

Re:long term security comes to mind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168590)

The best defense is to keep limited supplies available to make vaccines immediately

That might be true if the vaccine were made from the virus. So try again with a good reason to keep them.

Re:long term security comes to mind (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168334)

So 30,000-300,000 deaths or 0-0 deaths.
Either way those numbers seem damn low, looks like we should probably destroy all cars. That would save more lives than you are talking about.

Re:long term security comes to mind (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168610)

" but all potent fiction is rooted in real human psychology,"
but NOT truth. Many incorrect things are rooted in human psychology.

The desire to assign meaning to arbitrary numbers, for one.

We have given up power in the past.

And LotR doesn't really have any insight like that.

Re:long term security comes to mind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168712)

Smallpox is candy compared to the weaponized diseases that labs could create if they wanted to. Your fiction is smallsighted, inflating a molehill into a mountain because you never raise your eyes high enough to see real mountains.

Isn't the smallpox virus an endangered species? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168100)

It sure sounds to me like the virus is a species about to become extinct and it needs to be added to the endangered species list asap. Where are all the left wing environmental nuts when you need them?

smallpox in my pants (1)

slashpot (11017) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168112)

I have smallpox in my pants.

Re:smallpox in my pants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168604)

I have smallpox in my pants.

No problem. No humans will be exposed to what is inside your pants.

or.... (1)

GweeDo (127172) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168122)

It is to kill all the humans for when the aliens come back!

Known stocks aren't so big a problem, IMHO: (3, Insightful)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168158)

The problem is not those with declared stocks. The problem is that someone who isn't declaring it has some stored. Theyd be much more likely to do something untoward with it. And, if they do, then how would destroying small known stocks be anything but symbolism?

We're really early in the game of understanding the genetic basis of disease virulence. It's hard to say what may be useful in the way of organisms to be used in that kind of research.

Some emergent virus that uses some of smallpox's tricks may show up and we'd regret not having it available to study to better understand the new one.

Re:Known stocks aren't so big a problem, IMHO: (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168436)

Theyd be much more likely to do something untoward with it. And, if they do, then how would destroying small known stocks be anything but symbolism?

Rather than symbolism, wouldn't it be the trigger? "Good, the other guys don't have stocks anymore, that means no more MAD, so we can now open our test tubes!"

This could be a non issue... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168184)

if we were still vaccinated against small pox like nearly everyone else in the world.

For the Walking Dead (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168254)

We need to stockpile these viruses in order to stop the spread of the imminent Zombie Outbreak. Just don't hit the self-destruct button at the CDC until all Zombies have been eliminated!

sounds like population control to me! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168412)

so 14 million.... that's enough to start a new country, you think? give it to everyone, save 14 million, everybody else dies.... population control complete! now we all get to start over as farmers. well, what's left of us. I'm probably going to be one of those that die. Nobody needs a DBA in that future.

Re:sounds like population control to me! (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168630)

so 14 million.... that's enough to start a new country, you think? give it to everyone, save 14 million, everybody else dies....

No. What would probably happen is that those who came in contact with infected individuals would be given the vaccine in an effort to stave off a larger epidemic.

Evil (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168442)

I understand the need for defending your country etc.
But really, how can anybody involved in this actually think they are not doing evil?

The issue isn't smallpox. (1)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168502)

Mankind has yet to invent event one "antiviral" that stops an infection from progressing, in say the way that antibiotics can stop a bacterial infection in it's tracks. Meaning that vaccines/inoculation are the only way to stop them -- via prevention, not cure. SO until a cure exists for even ONE virus, the world's most dangerous viruses need to have vaccines for them available.

The point for keeping the viruses is that because mankind can't re-synthesize an active virus to test against, there needs to be a stock against which the vaccines can be tested. The point to having a particular number of vaccinations available is that in the event that an outbreak were discovered, a much lower threshold of containment can be accomplished by inoculations in a circular shape around the outbreak(s) so that responders and other possible people exposed can be protected.

Change the name of the virus to "Ebola" for which they can still basically only theorize the still don't know the original transmission vector. Or "hantavirus" in the US, [if it were spreadable other than by rodent / flea type infestation]. Assume 25 years has gone by and now that there's no ebola samples or hantavirus samples to test against, and then a vector hits a major population center at the time of the World Cup in soccer, or the Olympics, etc.

Change the topic back to smallpox... Do you still want them to destroy the few remaining smallpox VIRUS stocks they need to test new vaccines and drugs against?

Yeah right (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168528)

The US is preserving /* the last remaining known */ strains of smallpox in case they are needed to develop bio-warfare 'countermeasures'

Same as Anthrax, it wasn't for weapons. Even though a U.S. scientist used it and caused mayhem [msn.com] , is just an unfortunate episode.

There's no way it's going to be used on weapons or for terrorism, or end in the wrong hands altogether. Nope, there isn't.

</sarcasm>

For Defense? Bullshit. (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168570)

These are being kept in the event that *a* Government may need to "create" a way of culling the population in the future.

This is why big pharma is allowed to continue to "treat" major killers such as cancer and HIV/AIDS rather than cure, to ensure deaths, even if a cure already exists.

This is why big tobacco is allowed to use deadly pesticides on their crops, to ensure deaths.

This is also why alcohol is allowed to be legal, to ensure deaths, while marijuana will likely never be fully legalized, due to its inability to cause death.

If you think I'm being paranoid here, it doesn't take a genius to realize that resource management is a real problem for every Government in the world, and we are rapidly outgrowing our natural resources. Ensuring deaths continue to happen, however twisted that sounds, IS a viable option that they are exercising every day.

Smallpox? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36168624)

http://www.archetypeltd.co.nz/Smallpox.htm#edward_jenner

How can it possibly come back if it's been 'eradicated'?

There is no such thing as 'vaccination', and this $3 billion is an outrageous theft of the taxpayers' money.

warfare you say? (1)

newtype hack (2159512) | more than 3 years ago | (#36168728)

On a totally unrelated note, the government has also been breeding bees in remote locations in corn fields. This definitely is not related to their interest in smallpox.
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