Magazine article Risk Management

Smallpox Research Causes Concern over Public Health Risks

Magazine article Risk Management

Smallpox Research Causes Concern over Public Health Risks

Article excerpt

In an effort to find a cure for smallpox before it can be used as a weapon of bioterrorism, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, along with a group of universities and corporations, has begun a networked computer project to speed up the process. The project will use the power of millions of personal computers in a trial-and-error effort to screen drug compounds that would be effective against the disease. By downloading a program from www.grid.org, participants can allow their machines to be part of a globally distributed computing grid while they are idle. The result, say researchers, is that rather than spending years to screen hundreds of thousands of molecules, it will be possible to screen hundreds of millions of molecules in just months.

In the meantime, however, the White House continues to promote a federally mandated smallpox vaccination program-the implementation of which has come under fire from some experts.

Recently, a spokesperson for the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) warned that the increased focus on smallpox has come at the expense of other bioterrorism and public health programs. "The crush of the current smallpox vaccination activity is taking a large toll on public health agencies," NACCHO Executive Director Patrick Libbey told the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. "We do not believe it can be sustained without serious harm to a public health system that has already redoubled its efforts in order to improve the nation's overall public health preparedness. …

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