Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge

Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge

Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge

Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge


"David Koplow gathers, organizes, and lucidly presents the large body of material from a wide range of disciplines, which bears on the important public policy question whether or not to destroy existing stocks of variola. Engagingly written and accessible to a wide audience, this book will provide both policy makers and citizens with the basic information they need to reach informed and thoughtful judgments on this urgent issue."--John S. Applegate, author of "The Regulation of Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes

"David Koplow's book is an important work on a crucial subject. The author brings together an extraordinary amount of information on a vital policy issue. There is nothing available that treats the issue of smallpox with any comparable degree of completeness. Koplow marshals sources from myriad disciplines in a coherent, well-rounded discussion providing a service to the casual as well as the sophisticated reader. This book is a one-stop reference, containing virtually all the information an analyst needs to know."--Barry Kellman, Director of the International Weapons Control Center, DePaul University College of Law.


The virus responsible for smallpox—a tiny creature known as variola—has been a despised enemy of civilizations around the world. Over a period of at least three millennia it was second to none in inflicting human pain, suffering, and death. By some estimates, smallpox killed as many as 500 million people during the twentieth century alone, and as recently as thirty years ago, it was still at large in over thirty countries, attacking some fifteen million people annually and killing two million of them.

Through history, we have battled this foe with incantations, poultices, quarantines, and vaccinations. After struggling to contain it, we have at last conquered the disease globally and placed the last acknowledged vestiges of the virus in high-security confinement. Now, under the auspices of the United Nations, humans may be about to take a final, irreversible, step: to exterminate the last remaining captive samples of the smallpox virus. Thus, a quarter century after smallpox as a disease was wiped off the face of the earth, after additional years of painstaking struggle and research, the last two stockpiles of the causative virus (at least the last two that we know about)—stored in ½-inch high plastic vials in −70° Celsius liquid nitrogen baths inside secure isolation chambers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology near Novosibirsk—are targeted for destruction.

If activists in the World Health Organization and in many governmental and . . .

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