Science Policy

Survey of Pox Virus Research

06.04.08 | 2 min read | Text by Ivan Oelrich

Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News, just released a report produced for the intelligence community on pox virus research around the world. The report was written by Dr Alfred D. Steinberg, working for MITRE Corporation and published last January. While not classified, the report was also not approved for public release. From the report “It is widely feared that samples of variola virus may have been retained in several countries after a WHO directive to allow storage of such samples only in Russia and the United States.” It details the published pox virus research from around the world and provides a snapshot of the breadth of pox virus research happening today.

From Secrecy News:

Dozens of countries are conducting research involving animal pox viruses, according to a descriptive survey performed for the U.S. intelligence community’s Open Source Center.

There are various potential public health and security concerns associated with pox viruses (such as smallpox), the OSC report says in a background discussion.

“Naturally occurring smallpox disease was eliminated worldwide in 1977. Routine vaccination of US civilians against smallpox was discontinued in 1971, but allowed for travelers to endemic regions until the late 1970s. In most other countries, vaccination of the general population ended by 1982. As a result of this halt in vaccination, most of the US population could now become ill with smallpox disease should it be reintroduced by accident or intentionally.”

“In addition, humans are susceptible to several naturally occurring viruses related to smallpox, one of which could become a serious disease risk through natural evolution. Routine smallpox vaccination previously protected against these viruses. Finally, there is concern about the potential creation of a genetically engineered poxvirus that might be markedly pathogenic for humans.”

Like most finished intelligence products from the Open Source Center, the report on animal pox viruses has not been approved for public release. But a copy was obtained independently by Secrecy News.