News

DATE=3/16/99 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT NUMBER=5-42874 TITLE=SMALLPOX VIRUS BYLINE=DAVID MCALARY DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: FOR ABOUT TWO DECADES, THE WORLD HAS BEEN FREE OF SMALLPOX, AS THE RESULT OF AN INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO ELIMINATE THE DISEASE. BUT A DEBATE IS STILL RAGING OVER WHAT TO DO WITH THE LAST REMAINING STORES OF SMALLPOX VIRUS, HELD IN HIGHLY-PROTECTED U-S AND RUSSIAN LABORATORIES. IT ONCE SEEMED INEVITABLE THEY WOULD BE DESTROYED, TO ERASE ANY POSSIBILITY THEY COULD INFECT AGAIN. BUT THAT IS NOW FAR FROM CERTAIN. AS WE HEAR FROM V-O-A SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT DAVID MCALARY, AN INDEPENDENT U-S PANEL OF EXPERTS SAYS THERE ARE GOOD REASONS TO PRESERVE SPECIMENS OF THE VIRUS. TEXT: EVER SINCE THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION DECLARED THE EARTH SMALLPOX-FREE IN 1980, THE AGENCY, ITS MEMBER STATES AND OTHERS HAVE DEBATED WHETHER TO DESTROY THE LAST OFFICIAL STOCKS OF THE VIRUS. SOME HAVE ARGUED THAT DESTRUCTION IS THE ONLY WAY TO ENSURE THE VIRUS WOULD NEVER BE REINTRODUCED. BUT OTHERS HAVE EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT LOSING EXPERIMENTAL MATERIAL WITH A UNIQUE GENETIC STRUCTURE THAT MIGHT PROVIDE VITAL INFORMATION ABOUT HOW VIRUSES INFECT. A SCIENTIFIC PANEL, MEETING UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE U-S NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, HAS ISSUED A REPORT SUPPORTING THE LATTER VIEW. THE PANEL SAYS PRESERVING THE LIVE VIRUS MAY PROVIDE IMPORTANT MEDICAL OPPORTUNITIES THAT WOULD NOT OTHERWISE BE AVAILABLE. THE PANEL CHAIR, DR. CHARLES CARPENTER OF BROWN UNIVERSITY (IN THE EASTERN STATE OF RHODE ISLAND), SAYS LIVE VIRUS IS ALSO ESSENTIAL AS A BASIS FOR DEVELOPING DRUGS TO COMBAT A FUTURE OUTBREAK, WHICH COULD OCCUR, FOR EXAMPLE, IN AN ATTACK BY TERRORISTS CONDUCTING BIOLOGICAL WARFARE. /// CARPENTER ACT /// THAT'S ONE OF THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF HAVING THE LIVE VIRUS. IF IT WAS DECIDED THAT WE WOULD NEED TO DEVELOP NEW ANTIVIRAL AGENTS, WE WOULD NEED TO HAVE LIVE VIRUS STOCKS TO DO THAT, USING CELL CULTURES, ET CETERA. THAT WOULD BE THE OVERWHELMING REASON FOR RETAINING THE LIVE VIRUS IF THE DECISION WAS MADE THAT WE NEEDED TO DEVELOP MORE ANTIVIRAL AGENTS. /// END ACT /// THE PANEL ISSUED ITS REPORT AT THE REQUEST OF U-S HEALTH AND MILITARY OFFICIALS WHO WORRY THAT TERRORISTS MIGHT OBTAIN SMALLPOX VIRUS, KNOWN SCIENTIFICALLY AS VARIOLA. THE DISEASE IS HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS, OFTEN DEADLY AND AN ATTACK WOULD BE ESPECIALLY LETHAL, BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER VACCINATED AGAINST IT. // OPT // PANEL MEMBER ELLIOT KIEFE [PRON: KEEF] IS A HARVARD UNIVERSITY PHYSICIAN. /// KIEFE ACT /// ASSUMING THAT THERE IS A POSSIBILITY THAT THERE MAY BE VARIOLA OUT THERE WHICH COULD BE USED AS A BIOTERRORIST WEAPON -- WITH THAT AS AN ASSUMPTION, WE WOULD NEED TO HAVE EXISTING, REGISTERED STOCKS OF VARIOLA VIRUS FOR DEALING WITH THAT CONTINGENCY. /// END ACT /// /// END OPT /// THIS CONCERN HAS HELPED CHANGE THE BALANCE IN THE SMALLPOX DEBATE. AT ONE TIME, THE FORCES FOR DESTRUCTION SEEMED TO HAVE WON. IN 1996, AN ASSEMBLY OF W-H-O MEMBER NATIONS -- INCLUDING THE UNITED STATES -- VOTED TO DESTROY ALL REMAINING SMALLPOX VIRUS BY JUNE OF THIS YEAR. BUT IN JANUARY, A W-H-O COMMITTEE SPLIT OVER THE QUESTION. AT THE SAME TIME, PRESIDENT CLINTON SIGNALED A POTENTIAL CHANGE OF U-S POLICY, SAYING THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES REPORT WOULD INFLUENCE HIS THINKING ON SMALLPOX DESTRUCTION. EVEN WITHOUT A BIOTERRORIST THREAT, PANEL MEMBERS LIKE U-S NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH PHYSICIAN BERNARD MOSS SAY THERE ARE VALID REASONS TO HOLD ON TO THE VIRUS AND UNDERSTAND IT BETTER, USING SCIENTIFIC TECHNIQUES NOT AVAILABLE AT THE TIME OF ERADICATION. /// MOSS ACT /// THE VARIOLA VIRUS HAS VERY DIFFERENT BIOLOGICAL PROPERTIES, SPECIFICALLY IN HUMANS. IF WE COULD UNDERSTAND THIS INFORMATION, IT WOULD LIKELY REVEAL MORE ABOUT THE HUMAN IMMUNE SYSTEM OR OTHER ASPECTS OF HUMAN BIOLOGY. BUT NEITHER WE NOR FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS IF ALL THE VIRUS STOCKS ARE DESTROYED AT THIS TIME. /// END ACT /// WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION MEMBER COUNTRIES ARE TO MEET AGAIN IN MAY TO REVIEW THE DECISION TO DESTROY THE REMAINING SMALLPOX. THE MEETING COULD PIT MANY POORER COUNTRIES -- THOSE HIT HARDEST BY THE LAST EPIDEMICS -- AGAINST RUSSIA AND OTHERS WHO OPPOSE DESTRUCTION. IF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES REPORT IS INFLUENTIAL ENOUGH, THE UNITED STATES MAY CHANGE ITS STAND AND OPPOSE IT, TOO. (SIGNED) NEB/DEM/WTW 16-Mar-99 6:28 PM EST (2328 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .