In follow up to last week's news about how at the annual World Health Organization (WHO) meet this year a decision would be made surrounding the existing supplies of smallpox that still exist in two laboratories, one in Atlanta and a Russian government laboratory near Novosibirsk, the decision has been postponed for another three years. Iran was at the forefront of countries arguing for the stocks held in Russia and the United States to be destroyed now because of the risk of stockpiles falling into the wrong hands.
Pierre Formenty of the WHO simply stated:
"There has been a lot of discussion around the smallpox issue. Three years from now, we will resume the discussion."
The United States has argued more research is needed into vaccines against the disease eradicated more than 30 years ago. Already the debate over when to destroy the stocks has rumbled on for 25 years and resurfaced late last week.
The U.S. believes the live virus is needed to finish developing a vaccine without the serious side effects that older-generation vaccines can have in people with immune deficiency disorders, along with two other antiviral medications. The research would be shared with other countries, not just kept for U.S. defense purposes according to Nils Daulaire, director of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. representative on the WHO's executive board.
In February, Siga Technologies Inc was awarded a U.S. government contract for a smallpox antiviral development and the United States and others in its camp also want guarantees all other stocks have been destroyed or transferred to their two official repositories.
Biological weapons may be employed in various ways to gain a strategic or tactical advantage over an adversary, either by threat or by actual deployment. Like some of the chemical weapons, biological weapons may also be useful as area denial weapons. These agents may be lethal or non-lethal, and may be targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population. They may be developed, acquired, stockpiled or deployed by nation states or by non-national groups. In the latter case, or if a nation-state uses it clandestinely, it may also be considered bioterrorism.
Many nations, including the USSR and Iraq, signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention which committed the signers to not develop or use them. Rumors abound that many nations have them, including those weapons that we mentioned. Libya, Israel, China and Taiwan are often mentioned as nations with biological weapons. There are others. North Korea is suspected of having its own stockpile of smallpox viruses.
Smallpox is highly contagious, but generally spreads more slowly and less widely than some other viral diseases, perhaps because transmission requires close contact and occurs after the onset of the rash. The overall rate of infection is also affected by the short duration of the infectious stage. In temperate areas, the numbers of smallpox infections were highest during the winter and spring. In tropical areas, seasonal variation was less evident and the disease was present throughout the year.
Sources: Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and The World Health Organization
Written by Sy Kraft