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It is Still Not Time to Destroy Small Pox Virus, Researchers Say

May 02, 2014 08:54 AM EDT

U.S. researchers have urged the World Health Assembly (WHA) to not destroy the last remaining live strains of the Variola virus that causes small pox.

After several years of vaccination programs, the deadly small pox was eradicated in the 1980s.  Since then, two vials containing the virus have been kept under tight security, one in Russia and another in the U.S. The specimens are used to conduct research and develop safer vaccinations against the virus.

WHA is the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health authorities now want to destroy the virus because recent advancements in biology have made it easier to re-design the Variola (small pox) virus.

"The synthetic biology adds a new wrinkle to it," Jimmy Kolker, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for global affairs, told The Associated Press. "We now aren't as sure that our countermeasures are going to be as effective as we'd thought even five years ago."

But a study team led by Inger Damon from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the world isn't prepared for a re-emergence of small pox. The team believes that authorities must delay destruction of the virus.

"Despite these considerable advances, they argue that "the research agenda with live variola virus is not yet finished," according to a news release.

Damon and colleagues' article on the subject is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens

Small Pox-like Virus Found in Georgia

Two people in Georgia have been infected with a virus that resembles the small pox virus.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists, the virus causes painful blisters on hands and legs along with high fever and weakness, npr reported.

Both men, who caught the virus, have recovered.

"We haven't found any evidence of human-to-human transmission, so far," Neil Vora, lead researcher of the team that made the discovery told npr. "But how many people are getting sick? Are animals getting sick? We don't know. ... We don't know if it has caused any deaths."

Read the CDC report on the infection, here.

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