The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday that employees at the National Institutes of Health found some vials containing smallpox sitting in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda. These vials were labeled “variola,” which the CDC calls “the severe and most common form of smallpox.” The vials were discovered last week in an unused part of a storage room inside a laboratory operated by the Food and Drug Administration, the CDC said in a news release.
An estimated 300 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century alone. This virulent disease, which kills a third of those it infects, is known to have co-existed with human beings for thousands of years. As the world's population grew, and travel increased, so the virus that Edward Jenner called the "speckled monster" grasped every opportunity to colonise the world.... Smallpox was particularly successful in virgin populations.
"Smallpox was clearly the most serious infectious disease that mankind has endured over history," says Dr. D.A. Henderson, who led the international effort that eradicated smallpox in 1977. The virus can spread easily from one person to the next. History shows it hides in the body for about a week before erupting in a burning fever, convulsions, throbbing pain and terrible blisters all over the body. "What is particularly disturbing to the patient, certainly, is that they're inside of the mouth and over the tongue," Henderson says. "So he has trouble eating, and he has trouble drinking. It's probably the most horrible disease you can imagine." About a third of victims die. Many survivors are left scarred and, sometimes, blind.
The whole fucking world represents a "virgin population" to smallpox these days.
There's been a long and heated debate about whether we should destroy the last known stockpiles of the smallpox virus—held in labs in Russia and the United States—but now it looks like we don't just have to worry about whether we can trust the Russians to destroy their stockpiles if we destroy ours (and vice-versa) but everyone somehow remembering to destroy their unknown, mislaid and forgotten stockpiles of the virus too. Um... yikes?