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US Preserves Smallpox For Defense 248

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the it's-not-mine-i-swear dept.
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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US Preserves Smallpox For Defense

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

    • 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!

      • by JustOK (667959) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:00PM (#36167856) Journal

        is that like a cara analogy?

    • 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.

  • by geegel (1587009) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @12:58PM (#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.

    • s/smallpox/arbitrary-contangious-disease/
      • by Amouth (879122)

        arbitrary-contangious-disease

        no.. the common cold is an "arbitrary-contangious-disease" so is the flu

        smallpox had a death rate of nearly 10% - that is not anywhere near normal for your "arbitrary-contangious-disease"

    • by gman003 (1693318)
      It doesn't even have to be released as a weapon. Several years ago, a researcher was going through a bunch of American-Civil-War-era documents. Opened one envelope, and a bunch of smallpox scabs fell out. After that long, they weren't very infectious, so he didn't contract anything, but it's plausible that material from the 70s could have survived and remain dangerous. Which is why research into a better vaccine exists - since it's impossible to definitively prove that no smallpox material remains, it's wis
  • Duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Random2 (1412773) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @12:58PM (#36167828) Journal

    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      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.
      • by guruevi (827432)

        Most likely some affluent middle-eastern or asian countries might have some samples as well. It's not like it's a huge issue but any of those countries (US included) can 'lose' or use a sample. If it does happen as is the case with any sort of biological warfare, many will die before you even get to know what the problem is, what the appropriate response is and the logistics of the response not to even talk about finding out who did it, where it started and why.

        I think biological warfare is much more devast

        • Re:Duh. (Score:4, Informative)

          by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:39PM (#36169148)
          The problem with biological warfare is that, while it is very devestating, it is impossible to avoid significant risk of blowback on one's own civilian and military population. Even with recent advances in biological science, I think that the ability to reliably target a particular population without significant risks to other populations is still beyond the foreseeable future.
    • by magarity (164372)

      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.

      • by Moryath (553296)

        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,

    • by vlm (69642)

      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 workpla

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        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.

        • by vlm (69642)

          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 li

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            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.

        • Won't spread that fast? All it takes is one infectious person on an international flight to spread it across borders. That's before they close any borders. There are constant reports of less serious outbreaks like measles [reuters.com] that infect hundreds of people because someone boarded a flight.
      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        For example, no one really cares that we lost New Orleans unless they have/had friends and family there...

        Err...we didn't lose New Orleans...still alive and better than ever I'd say.

        And as for no one caring....well, you might wanna rethink that. If not from a historical/cultural standpoint (the city IS older that the USA itself you know)...from a merely financial standpoint, you don't wanna lose NOLA.

        It is the port city to the world off the MS river...a huge amount of product from the middle of the US ha

    • by Xest (935314)

      The issue is that Smallpox is a particularly contagious, particularly deadly virus.

      The danger is that of accidental release, either through human error, or natural disaster, or even non-accidental release through malice or terrorism.

      The argument against keeping it is that if we really needed to, we could reproduce it from scratch, like we did the 1918 influenza, because smallpox is fully DNA sequenced and we thus have the technology to bring it back, hence there should really be no need to store live sample

      • Re:Duh. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @04:34PM (#36170572) Homepage

        No, You _CANNOT_ recreate smallpox from DNA sequence. Not yet. There is a world of difference between simple viruses which have been assembled in the lab like the polyo virus and a smallpox virus. In fact there is a world of difference between a SmallPox virus and Flu.

        The SmallPox virus is _BIG_. It is so big that it is on the borderline to defy the common assumption that viruses are not visible under microscope. It carries a whole battery of own enzymes which are essential for the initial cycle of the infection. We have not yet learned how to build all these with the correct glycosylation (they have glycosides sticking on them same as your average eucariote protein). We are not in a position to assemble it either. If we were, we could assemble a whole eucariote cell which is not anywhere near the current science level. Same level of complexity more or less.

        In 10 years we may be in a position to build it from sequence. Now - not a chance.

  • Didn't everybody know this 10 years ago?
    • by magarity (164372)

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      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 n

      • I agree with your cynical viewpoint of these news articles, but I wouldn't say it's only in our own interest to keep the virus for national defense. Maybe that's one of the reasons that media latched onto, but it's not the only one. Research being preformed on smallpox is not limited in scope to smallpox vaccines, but virology in general. Keep in mind that smallpox was the first virus to have a vaccine developed. There is a huge body of literature and science behind smallpox, so, for example, watching f

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        What a load of crap. The US unilaterally got stopped developing biological weapons. The US is keeping this so it can develop vaccines if needed no other reason. The all the tin foil hated NUT CASES are just too stupid to figure out is that if the US really was going to keep Smallpox virus as a weapon they would simply LIE and tell everyone that they did destroy it. Really are people just so stupid that they can not even understand that it would be more likely that if the US was going to weaponise this they

  • 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

    • by jnaujok (804613)
      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 somewhe
      • by mcmonkey (96054)

        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.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      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

      • unlike SIV/ HIV or influenza which loves making species jumps, there are no natural smallpox reservoirs out there except us, other human beings. so it is genuinely dead in the wild

        yes, there are related cousins to smallpox, like cowpox, but these diseases need to evolve into something like smallpox over an extended period of time, they won't simply spontaneously recreate smallpox in the wild

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      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.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      " 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.

      • so insights into human psychology have no meaning to issues that are rooted in human psychology?

        (!?)

        yes, you are correct: many incorrect things are rooted in human psychology. but it is impossible to remove the human psychology from the equation. therefore you need to understand human psychology to understand the problem

        or is your thinking you an magically snap your fingers and remove the human factor from policy decisions? and how the hell does that work?

    • by Combatso (1793216)
      10 - 100 9 / 11 = 81.7272727272727273. definately scary stuff.
  • by GweeDo (127172)

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

  • by Hartree (191324) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:19PM (#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.

    • by vlm (69642)

      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!"

  • 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!
  • by hoggoth (414195)

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

  • 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
  • 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>

  • 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 i

    • Then why can't I build my own machine gun, or go and buy several tons of explosives. These are likely to cause death to the owner or user but are illegal.

      I distrust government probably more than most but even I find this to be a strech:

      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.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Yes you are a complete paranoid nut job and really should seek professional help.
      It is simple as that. We need a new moderation level. "Seek help now"

  • We are legion
  • Virulent pathogens have got rights, too!
  • by crunchygranola (1954152) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:45PM (#36169224)

    Since the smallpox genome was decoded and published in 2006, it is impossible to rid the world of the threat of smallpox.

    The Vaccinia virus used in smallpox vaccinations is 95% similar to smallpox (see http://www.nap.edu/html/variola_virus/ch1.html [nap.edu]). This means that the base difference is 10,000 bases. This is only modestly more than the 7500 bases assembled to synthetically recreate polio, which was also accomplished in 2006. You can order custom gene sequences of 1000 base pairs today at a cost of $1.30 per base pair.

    A gene assembly lab, a sample of Vaccinia and a hundred thousand dollars can recreate smallpox today.

    There is no other option but continue smallpox research for defensive purposes.

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