US: Not time to destroy stockpiled smallpox virus

WASHINGTON - More than three decades after the eradication of smallpox, U.S. officials say it's still not time to destroy the last known stockpiles of the virus behind one of history's deadliest diseases.

   The world's health ministers meet later this month to debate, again, the fate of vials held under tight security in two labs -- one in the U.S. and one in Russia.

   The virus is being used for carefully limited research to create drugs and safer vaccines in case this killer ever returns, through terrorism or a lab accident or if all the world's stocks aren't really accounted for.

Member countries of the World Health Organization long ago agreed that eventually the last virus strains would be destroyed. The question was when.

   Some countries say it's long past time. But the WHO's decision-making assembly repeatedly has postponed that step.

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