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Global Health
July 16, 2014

Smallpox Lives to Die Another Day

JAMA. 2014;312(3):222. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.7977

The decision about whether and when to destroy the last living samples of the Variola virus, which causes smallpox, was postponed when the topic came up on the agenda at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, in May (http://bit.ly/TzRgSk).

After the WHO declared smallpox to be eradicated in 1980, scientists have continued to debate whether to destroy the 2 remaining stocks of the virus, which are contained in laboratories in the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo and at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. The issue was last discussed at the World Health Assembly in 2011, when it was decided that the stocks should be destroyed, but discussion of when was deferred until this year’s meeting.

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