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January 2015

Smallpox Redux?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Gillings School of Global Public Health, Program in Infectious Diseases, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(1):13-14. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.2560

The discovery in July 2014 of 6 heat-sealed glass vials of the smallpox virus along with more than 300 vials of other viral and bacterial pathogens in a cold storage room at the National Institutes of Health campus (Bethesda, Maryland) has received only modest attention.1 Perhaps this is because most Americans have never seen a case of smallpox, which is the only disease of humans that has been vanquished. The majority of people who were born since the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of smallpox eradication in May 1980 have not been vaccinated against this scourge of antiquity that has a mortality rate of approximately 30%.2 During the global smallpox eradication campaign, the WHO made concerted efforts to restrict the number of laboratories that were allowed to retain stocks of the virus. Currently, smallpox virus is legally held in only 2 high-security laboratories: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Koltsovo, Russia.2 The proposed destruction of the smallpox virus stocks in these laboratories has once again been postponed by the World Health Assembly.

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