Smallpox, caused by the Variola virus (pictured), was responsible for more than 300 million deaths in the 20th Century. In 1980, the World Health Organisation declared smallpox eradicated, following a global vaccination campaign. Currently, only two high-security labs, in Russia and the USA, have live Variola in storage. Since eradication of the disease, the stored virus has been studied extensively, but the World Health Assembly will be determining the fate of these last remaining stocks in the coming few days. While some scientists think that sufficient research has been carried out, and the stocks should be destroyed, others, like the authors of this PLOS paper, believe that we still have more to learn and continuing research is vital. Arguments for keeping the stocks include being able to develop better antivirals to combat the threat of a possible appearance of a vaccine-resistant smallpox virus and understanding why Variola uniquely targets humans.
Written by Katie Panteli
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.