Safety procedures at Russian smallpox lab satisfy UN health agency

25 October 2002

A team of experts appointed by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has inspected a smallpox research laboratory in the Russian Federation, concluding that safety concerns are being addressed, the agency announced today.

A team of experts appointed by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has inspected a smallpox research laboratory in the Russian Federation, concluding that safety concerns are being addressed, the agency announced today.

The team concluded that the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology, known as Vector, can safely be used for work with the virus which causes smallpox provided that current protocols are strictly applied.

Located in Koltsovo, Vector is one of two WHO collaborating centres which currently house stocks of the Variola virus which causes smallpox. The other is at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

Under the terms of a series of resolutions passed by the World Health Assembly since the eradication of smallpox was officially confirmed in 1980, these facilities are regularly inspected by WHO-appointed biosafety teams. The most recent resolution, passed in May, specifies that the purpose of the inspections is to confirm the strict containment of existing stocks and to ensure a safe research environment for work with the Variola virus.

An acutely contagious disease, smallpox historically decimated entire populations, killing up to 30 per cent of its victims and badly scarring most of those who survived the lesions which spread over the bodies of those infected. There is no known treatment. The last natural case of smallpox was documented in Somalia in 1977.

 

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