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Smallpox Still Threatens, 30 Years After Its Demise

Smallpox Still Threatens, 30 Years After Its Demise

An Australian expert said a terrorist attack using smallpox would be devastating, as it has been decades since people have been vaccinated against the disease, the Australian Associated Press reported today (see GSN, July 3).

“The world population is no longer immune to smallpox, it’s 30 years ago that vaccinations stopped,” said Ian Ramshaw, head of the National Center for Biosecurity at the Australian National University.

Ramshaw made his remarks at an Australian conference marking the 30th anniversary of smallpox’s worldwide eradication. Russia and the United States are both known to store samples of the disease. Former Soviet scientists might also have taken samples with them during the breakup of the communist superpower, Ramshaw said.

“It’s not known whether rogue states or others have samples of smallpox virus but we must remain alert,” he said. “I don’t think immediately there is a threat of bioterrorism but I think things might change in the future and we have to be aware of that.”

“We don’t have modern vaccines for smallpox … something that we could introduce if it were released,” Ramshaw added (see GSN, June 7).

“There’s no current vaccine that would be tolerable or acceptable in today’s world,” Ramshaw said (Australian Associated Press/The Age, July 6).