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England has a Secret supply of Smallpox!

By Kalrand in News
Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 11:16:34 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

According to an article on This is London, the English government had a container of Foot-and-Mouth disease stolen from the top secret labratory in Port Down that also contains "smallpox, TB, anthrax and Ebola". This is interesting since the CDC (and for that matter the WHO) believes that the only stores of the smallpox virus are in Moscow and Atlanta.

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comments (24)
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England has a Secret supply of Smallpox! | 57 comments (31 topical, 26 editorial, 0 hidden)
probably wrong (4.60 / 5) (#2)
by Delirium on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:34:48 PM EST

I'd have to question the veracity of this information. The comment about the other diseases it holds was thrown in as an aside, so I'd guess it's just an inaccurate listing. If this was a genuine discovery that the UK has smallpox stores it would've merited more than a passing mention. I'd bet they were just listing some diseases they figured a laboratory of this sort would have and forgot that smallpox is actually held by a very few limited labs.

True (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by Devil Ducky on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 10:38:06 AM EST

If it was discovered that England had smallpox, it would be news worthy. As in CNN, msNBC, even Fox would be interrupting into shows with teasers like:
"Smallpox found in London, story at 11:00"
In which case I would have heard of it long before now, that is I ever changed the channel off of Cartoon Network.

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
[ Parent ]
Great Find! (4.25 / 4) (#4)
by FcD on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:37:59 PM EST

My guess is that we'll later hear a correction that it was variola vaccine and not live virus. This quote from the bottom of the CDC article was especially juicy:

Editorial Note: The last endemic case of smallpox occurred in October 1977 in Somalia. Two cases of smallpox occurred in the United Kingdom in 1978 associated with a smallpox research laboratory.

Varicella wouldn't merit any mention. (4.00 / 2) (#9)
by Apuleius on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:17:04 AM EST

Cowpox samples are not a closely guarded -oh-shit-keep-this-away-from-Osama type of thing.

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
WHO/Labs to be believed? (4.33 / 3) (#12)
by Tim C on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 05:54:18 AM EST

If I had a secret stash of smallpox, I wouldn't tell anyone, either. Maybe I'd tell the WHO, as I guess they ought to know, but I'd specifically request them not to tell anyone else.


I wouldn't want any terrorist groups or activists taking it upon themselves to try to make a grab for it, that's why. Even if I did believe that my security measures were up to the job, it would represent an unecessary risk, and put my employees in danger.

So, do you really believe that you know where all the remaining samples of smallpox and other nasties are?



Smallpox (4.50 / 2) (#13)
by wiredog on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 07:54:22 AM EST

First, read Living Terrors by Osterholm (an epidemiologist) and Schwartz ( a reporter). It is a small, but interesting, book about biological terrorism. It describes the effects of some bioweapons, including a hypothetical attack on Chicago with smallpox. According to the book the Soviet Union (no surprise here) weaponized smallpox, and manufactured several tons of it. With the poor accounting of what was done with it, there's no way of knowing who has stocks of smallpox. It's a nasty disease and is highly contagious with a high death rate. Causes permanent scarring of the survivors.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.

On being an old coot... (3.50 / 2) (#15)
by davidduncanscott on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 08:46:58 AM EST

Ah, finally an advantage to being older than most of you -- I can sit back, roll up my sleeve, and beam with pride at the circular scar on my left shoulder.

Of course, then I peek in at my sleeping daughter and realize that she has no such protection...

[ Parent ]

Vaccinus boosters. (4.75 / 4) (#19)
by claudius on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:20:57 AM EST

Of course, then I peek in at my sleeping daughter and realize that she has no such protection...

I hate to spoil your day, but chances are you have no such protection anymore either. If I recall correctly from reading at www.fas.org, you need to get smallpox boosters every 10 years or so, else the initial vaccination loses its efficacy.

We stopped vaccinating folks when the threat of complications from the vaccination became greater than the threat of contracting smallpox. These estimates did not take into account the potential use of smallpox as a bioweapon, but then again epidemiology methodology has a hard time assigning a risk value to potential acts of terrorism.

[ Parent ]
Vaccination scar (5.00 / 3) (#20)
by wiredog on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:24:42 AM EST

I was vaccinated twice. One from when I was a kid, in the 60's, and the other when I was in the Army, in 85. In the US Army you get vaccinated for all the usual things (measles, mumps, etc.) unless you have paperwork showing you don't need them. (The military stopped smallpox vaccinations 10 or so years ago.) It should be noted that the smallpox vaccine only provides protection for about 10 years, so we are probably no longer immune.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
[ Parent ]

Your sig (none / 0) (#56)
by Dwonis on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 11:13:57 PM EST

The average American has one breast and one testicle

Wha?? Oh. Heh heh. Gotta love statistics! :)

[ Parent ]

Smallpox vaccine no good after 20 years. (none / 0) (#51)
by Apuleius on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 12:13:33 AM EST

I have two scars (first vaccination didn't catch) because Israel was still vaccinating in /197[98]/. But the vaccine loses potency in the meantime and if smallpox attacks happen I'll have to go for a third.

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
Looks like (3.66 / 3) (#25)
by Kinthelt on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:12:46 AM EST

The newspaper probably screwed up. The official word is that only two countries in the world have smallpox stocks. However, many countries have vaccine stocks. There is a difference between smallpox and smallpox vaccine. One (smallpox) is the variola virus, while the other (vaccine) is the vaccinia virus. My guess is that the newspaper editor mistook the vaccine for the virus.

Nice rumor but no facts (4.66 / 3) (#26)
by khallow on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:14:13 AM EST

You are basing your article on a secondhand remark. I think it more likely that the original reportor had gotten the story wrong particularly since the presence of "smallpox" doesn't appear to be a real "secret". There is no story here.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

They probably do... (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by Blarney on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 04:54:05 AM EST

Even if this is a careless, sloppy assertion by some reporter who doesn't know the difference between smallpox and anthrax, Britian probably does have some smallpox.

It's that old evil doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction again - so long as anybody has smallpox, everybody else needs to have some too in order to release theirs when somebody releases theirs. Because of this, nobody will ever release any smallpox and we'll all live in pox-free happiness! That fucking Dr. Stangelove Prisoners Dilemma crap.

There is NO reason to have any smallpox anywhere - except for use as a weapon. It's not a matter of not eradicating a species of life, because viruses aren't really alive. It's not a matter of public health, because the vaccine is made out of a different virus, the vaccinia virus which is safe, cheap and widely available. The scientific value of the virus is basically nil - what can you find out, besides how to make a thing that has no other use besides killing people?

Still, just to maintain the MAD situation, Britain almost certainly does have some.

Subject to debate (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by iGrrrl on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 08:22:57 AM EST

There is NO reason to have any smallpox anywhere - except for use as a weapon.
Actually, this point is debated periodically in the scientific literature. Every few years I see a discussion of whether the last known stores of live smallpox virus should be destroyed. The only known cases in the last few decades are lab-related, after all.

The arguments against, at least from a biologist's perspective, have nothing to do with weaponry. Nothing. Smallpox is exquisitely tuned to infecting humans, and we don't know nearly as much about the biology of the virus as we do about, say, HIV. We could conceivably learn a lot from smallpox infection mechanisms about designing viral vectors for gene therapy, to give just one example.

I sit on the fence on this issue because I see both the possible use as a weapon (bad), and the possible source of useful knowledge (good).

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

Extinction is forever (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by ana on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 09:27:04 AM EST

It seems there's at least an ethical/moral argument to be had on whether it's ever OK to purposely cause an organism (even a human-specific virus that causes a horrible disease) to go extinct.


Years go by; will I still be waiting
for somebody else to understand?
--Tori Amos

[ Parent ]

1963 Ford Galaxie (3.00 / 1) (#39)
by Blarney on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 04:08:37 PM EST

"Extinction" implies that the last of some living thing is killed. Smallpox is not alive. The analogy between a computer virus and a real virus is pretty good - both use their host (a computer or a living organism) to replicate. Neither is actually alive.

If you must make an analogy, perhaps you could consider - what if the last 1963 Ford Galaxie was destroyed? That might be a bad thing, yes, but would it be extinction? Is there an ethical/moral argument about crunching the last one into scrap?

[ Parent ]

A matter of scale (none / 0) (#50)
by ttfkam on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 09:39:27 PM EST

The Galaxie was made by people. People designed it, people built it, and people stopped having exposure to it voluntarily.

Smallpox is nature's kitchen. It does things that we don't fully understand and with that lack of knowledge comes a vulnerability to its effects in the future.

Nothing is to be gained by keeping old Fords around as long as we still have the blueprints. The trick is that we don't have the blueprints to Smallpox yet.

If I'm made in God's image then God needs to lay off the corn chips and onion dip. Get some exercise, God! - Tatarigami
[ Parent ]
Oh, definitely... (none / 0) (#54)
by Kasreyn on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 10:04:39 AM EST

Human extinction IS forever.

What, you think I'm kidding? Smallpox is a deadly disease with a huge fatality rate. And no one is vaccinated anymore these days except the elderly.

If it comes down to eradicating smallpox as should have been done, for good, decades ago, or the human race eradicating *itself* by an accidental release of smallpox, I choose smallpox.

If smallpox were held to be researched so that scientists could learn how to prevent / cure such deadly diseases, that's fine. But they just can't be trusted with it. And they ARE busy making weapons out of germs somewhere. If you want to get really paranoid, read Stephen King's "The Stand".

I've yet to see a smallpox virus write a symphony, or write a novel, or sing a song. I think we're a bit more valuable. So let's just dump all the little vials teeming with death into a vat of acid and be done with it.

<br>"Intolerant people should be shot." - the best one-sentence troll I have ever seen.<br>

[ Parent ]
It's not the actual viruses themselves that matter (3.00 / 1) (#44)
by Kasreyn on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 03:12:57 PM EST

It's who HAS them.

If such deadly toys were only held by those responsible to look after them properly and not use them to harm anyone, things would be fine. But governments, and scientists in general as well, are pretty uncaring about the consequences of what they do.

"Hey, I just BUILT the A-bomb. *I* didn't drop it on Nagasaki!"

Scientists convince themselves they are innocent, the governments convince themselves they are only doing their duty, and in neither case does it matter. Irresponsible people in power will cause death and suffering no matter the technology level; however, with tools like smallpox to work with, we're now talking millions of fatalities instead of hundreds or thousands. That's efficiency for you!

One might say that virii can be used in the future for genetic engineering. Perhaps an "improved" set of human genes could be distributed by a worldwide virus! But again, who does the deciding?

In the end, with any technology, what matters in terms of its abuse is who is (ab)using it, not what the technology is capable of.

I might give this one a +1, who knows? I'm new here after all. =)

-Kasreyn<br>"Intolerant people should be shot." - the best one-sentence troll I have ever seen.<br>

[ Parent ]
That's -my- one sentence troll (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by ZanThrax on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 04:11:49 PM EST

thank you very much. Although, I wasn't trying to troll, I just thought it made an ironic sig... (Assuming you saw it about a year or so ago on slashdot, otherwise, someone stole my old tag)

My opinions are my own, not those of whatever philosopher or talk radio drone they may remind you of.

[ Parent ]
Hey, that's ok... (3.00 / 1) (#48)
by Kasreyn on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 04:30:31 PM EST

It makes a GREAT troll, think of it!

Say "Intolerant people should be shot".

Watch all the morons with no sense of humor fall all over themselves pointing out that intolerant people don't deserve to be shot, you awful person you!

LOL I can see it now!

Also, can I keep using it as a sig? Assuming it really was your creation. Yes, I did see it on /. but maybe it was being used as a sig by someone who had previously seen yours. ;)

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to sig.

-Kasreyn<br>"Intolerant people should be shot." - the best one-sentence troll I have ever seen.<br>

[ Parent ]
I used it for a few months, and only one (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by ZanThrax on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 06:05:07 PM EST

person commented on it in that manner. So either most people there were smart enough to recognise the irony (or just decided not to rise to the troll - whatever), or they missed the point entirely and thought it sounded like a good idea...

My opinions are my own, not those of whatever philosopher or talk radio drone they may remind you of.

[ Parent ]
OH. (3.66 / 3) (#55)
by ZanThrax on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 11:30:16 PM EST

Just noticed the 'can i use it' bit. Go ahead. I don't really care about it, I was just surprised to see my tag mentioned like that. I definately prefer yours to trhurler's. (I just can't get over the feeling that he's at least implying something negative about me...)

My opinions are my own, not those of whatever philosopher or talk radio drone they may remind you of.

[ Parent ]
Oh, no. (none / 0) (#57)
by trhurler on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 01:29:47 PM EST

I mean nothing negative about you. If I did, believe me you, I'd feel free to say so. I just found your comment regarding me to be amusing, for reasons you'd probably consider to be very mirror, mirror, on the wall-esque. Hell, I don't even really know who you are or what you think; you rarely reply to me and vice versa, and if you think I have time to write and read the threads I take part in and still read more than just the submissions queue while also doing my job, you're nuts:)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
I knew this ages ago (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by philj on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 08:22:07 AM EST

It's not a secret. The journalist that wrote the article must've had his head buried in the sand for the last n years.

Explain that? (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by Crashnbur on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 08:41:20 PM EST

I'm just curious about what you mean. For instance, what's been known for years?


[ Parent ]
Read this: (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by pallex on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 06:38:51 AM EST

"A higher form of killing", by Jeremy Paxman.
It`ll tell you all about government experiments with plague, smallpox etc etc.

It is all extremely old news.

[ Parent ]
CDC -> Cult of the Dead Cow?? (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by DrEvil on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 02:18:34 PM EST

I find it ironic that the Center for Disease Control and the Cult of the Dead Cow have the same initials. After all, this Foot-and-Mouth** and Mad Cow Disease talk is about dead cows!

** isn't it suppost to be hoof-and-mouth??? Who came up with all this foot-and-mouth nonsense? I haven't seen many cows (and other animals affected by it) with feet!

Um. (4.00 / 2) (#46)
by fluffy grue on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 02:40:37 PM EST

Cult of the Dead Cow, if I'm not mistaken, chose their name as a parody on the Center for Disease Control. I don't think they've ever explicitly stated this, but a lot of their early NFO files went on at length about how Ebola was going to kill us all, so...

Foot-and-Mouth vs Hoof-and-Mouth depends on the country the person is from. I've noticed that Americans call it Hoof-and-Mouth, whereas Brits call it Foot-and-Mouth. IMO, the Brits have it right - the hoof is part of the foot (it's a specific variation of the toes). It's not like cows don't have feet - their toes are just fused together into a hoof.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Hmm.. (3.00 / 1) (#52)
by infinitesin on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 05:44:48 AM EST

You better watch out if those jolly Brits don't win the World Cup. There's going to be hell to pay. We'll have to fight back with the secret fat-girls-with-laser-guns division of our Marines.

But that's the lack of sleep talking.
"Just wait until tomorrow..I guess that's what they all say..just before they fall apart.."

England has a Secret supply of Smallpox! | 57 comments (31 topical, 26 editorial, 0 hidden)
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