UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Do you think all stocks of polio virus should be destroyed with the upcoming eradication of the disease?
Question Date: 2001-01-08
Answer 1:

I haven't heard that this is an issue for polio yet but I know it is a very big issue for smallpox. Russia and the United States have samples of smallpox and it is believed that those samples are all that remain of a very dangerous, even deadly, disease. What are the issues involved? Here's a few I can think of.

1) What if smallpox comes back somehow? Maybe it's been hiding in a jungle somewhere waiting to emerge again. Very few people, if any, are vaccinated now and without those samples we would be less prepared to meet the challenge.
Even worse, what if some terrorist also has samples and releases smallpox in some unsuspecting city? On the other hand, having those samples always comes with the risk that they could be stolen and used to create the above mentioned biological weapon. There is also the incredibly remote possibility of an accidental disaster.

2) We've never, with forethought, caused the extinction of a species before. On accident or because of carelessness many, many times but never on purpose as far as I know. It might be a bad precedent to set.

3) We may be able to learn something now or in the future from those samples. If we destroy them, that information would be lost. But there is still a risk, of course.

What do I think? I would hesitate to do anything permanent but I'm probably pretty conservative on these kinds of issues. I'm sure others will disagree. Either way involves a risk. Which one would you choose?

Answer 2:

Well, that's a good question.I think that stocks should not be destroyed, personally. There are those who would disagree, but if you will allow me, I will share with you why I think they should not be destroyed.

For starters, we have a very very effective vaccine, both oral and injected, that are incredibly effective. Second, there is no sense in destroying what we cannot (easily) recreate. There is the possibility that research into polio would lead to insights into other diseases, e.g. muscular dystrophy. Since most medical reserach takes place on small mammals, how could we infect them with polio if we don't have the stock? It is a brutal reality that we need disease to eradicate disease. So, I personally am not in favor of destroying the entire stock.

Note for the record that "eradication" means eradicating the natural occurrence of the disease, and not the disease itself. It is a bit foolish to believe that we will kill every single last little virus floating around out there.

By the way, there is a great website for you to check out. Go to http://www.philly.com/packages/polio/timeline/default.asp and see what they have to say about this question.

What do you think?

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use