Scientists fail to agree on smallpox destruction

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD'S leading virologists last night failed to come to a clear-cut consensus on whether the last remaining traces of smallpox should be killed off.

About 1,000 virologists attended a conference in Glasgow to discuss a World Health Organisation recommendation that the last traces of the killer disease should be destroyed. The traces are kept deep-frozen at laboratories in Moscow and Atlanta, in the US.

With smallpox long eradicated, the WHO first recommended they be destroyed by the end of this year, but granted a stay of execution for more debate. The final decision will be taken by the World Health Assembly next year.

Speakers in the debate at the International Congress on Virology divided exactly down the middle, five in favour of destruction and five against. Most of those in favour of keeping it argued the frozen remains could yet have much to teach scientists studying the behaviour of other viruses - with possible implications for shedding new light on diseases such as Aids.

But Dr Brian Mahy, of the Atlanta laboratory, said destruction would send a 'clear message' that mankind was 'not afraid to create a safer environment for future generations'.