Could smallpox really be turned into a biological weapon by terrorists?
from British publication metro:
"Smallpox originates from thousands of years ago and was officially eradicated at the end of the 1970s, but the infectious disease has only recently been downgraded as a potential terror threat.
It emerged last month that the British government quietly decided that the possibility of terrorists using the virus in a biological attack was too far-fetched.
It led to criticism from the science community that former prime minister Tony Blair had wasted millions of pounds in preparing for a threat which seemed unlikely to materialise.
He spent £79m on smallpox vaccines in 2002, a controversial move given that
It was a purchase which was heavily criticised, not least for the fact that £32m of that money went to a company owned by Labour donor Paul Drayson.
By 2005, the Department of Health had vaccinated 516 volunteers – including 147 doctors, 164 nurses and 100 ambulance staff – who would, in theory, have been able to deal with any suspected or confirmed case of smallpox.
However, reports published in 2006 and 2011 suggest that the vaccination programme had floundered and that many of those vaccinated had not been revaccinated, which was necessary to maintain their immunity.
In papers leaked last month which revealed the terror threat downgrade, ministers said that preparations were too expensive, ‘unwieldy’ and not ‘proportionate’.
Experts have cited this downgrading as further proof that the vaccines should never have been purchased in the first place. However, other countries aren’t so convinced.
The US government has just placed orders for a new smallpox vaccine which could treat approximately two million of the country’s residents in the event of an attack.
Smallpox is believed to date back as far as 10,000 BC and evidence of it was found on the mummified body of Ramses V...."
In the 16th century, the virus helped the Spanish conquer the Aztecs and the Incas. Unlike the Spanish, the natives had no immunity to smallpox as they had never come across it before and large numbers of them were wiped out.
Centuries later, smallpox became the only human infectious disease to be eradicated completely, thanks to a global health campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The last case of naturally-occurring smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977, although the last recorded case occurred in Britain in 1978, when Janet Parker, a British medical photographer, died after being accidentally exposed to the virus as a result of a laboratory accident at the University of Birmingham Medical School.
So what exactly is smallpox and why is it seen by some as such a threat? This fatal and highly contagious disease – also known as variola – spreads from person to person via respiratory droplets or contact with bodily fluids and has an incubation period of between seven and 17 days.
Early symptoms include a high temperature, headaches and backache. Pink bumps appear on the victim’s face and head, before spreading to the rest of the body. A third of all cases are fatal.
Smallpox has been used as a weapon before. It was used during the French and Indian wars between 1754 and 1767, when British soldiers distributed smallpox-infected blankets to American Indians.
During the 1980s, the Soviet Union developed smallpox as an aerosol biological weapon and produced large quantities of virus-laden material.
However, the fact that samples of smallpox are currently only kept in two very secure locations – in Siberia and the US – means that using it as a terrorist weapon would be considerably harder than it was during the French and Indian wars.
‘Smallpox poses a limited threat because it has been eradicated from nature,’ said Professor Gregory Koblentz, terrorism and weapons expert at George Mason University, near Washington DC.
further posting of article not permitted by yahoo.
The article goes on to quote 'expert' Thomas Pennington who minimizes the need for preparedness against smallpox, and finishes with 'expert' Gergory Koblentz hoping to God we never see another case of smallpox. Sounds like God has this one covered...no need for 246.
1. It is thought that samples of weaponized variola (smallpox) may have been sold to countries like Syria during the fall of the Soviet empire...
2. Like getting DNA from a cigarette butt, It is theoretically possible to reconstruct live smallpox from buried corpses of those who have died from it.
3. The DNA sequence to smallpox was published in journals years ago, long before people ever though it would be possible to construct it from the printed sequence. It’s rather trivial now.
The only thing preventing any advanced country from developing smallpox as a weapon is a lack of desire to do it.