The image shows a section through many variola major viruses, the agents that cause smallpox. The protein coat is labeled in yellow and genetic material is shown in red.
The best approach for averting the deadly spread of smallpox following release of the virus by terrorists may rest with the establishment of a major collaborative research effort to develop new antiviral drugs that would involve the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, universities and government agencies, according to a new report from the National Academies.
The report delivers the recommendations of a distinguished panel of researchers who participated in a two-day workshop at the National Academies to promote the application of the latest biological information, technology and experience to the study of smallpox. Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Stephen C. Harrison of Harvard Medical School is the lead author of the report, which was published online July 12, 2004, in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to Harrison, two factors loomed large as the scientists considered the dangers of smallpox. First, there is essentially no information about whether stocks of the variola virus, which causes smallpox, exist outside the two known repositories in the United States and Russia. Second, the impact of intentional release of the virus would “probably provoke a global health crisis.” The report states that “the lethality of the disease (up to 40 percent) and its ease of transmissibility place variola virus at the top of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] list of high threat (category A) agents.”
Jim Keeley | EurekAlert!
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