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Learning English - Words in the News
18 May, 2005 - Published 16:00 GMT
WHO to discuss smallpox research
An actor in makeup
The last smallpox case was in 1977

The World Health Assembly meeting for its annual session in Geneva is due to consider the question of whether to permit further research on the smallpox virus. This report from Imogen Foulkes:

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Smallpox is one of the deadliest diseases the world has ever known. It kills over a quarter of all of those infected with it. Those who survive are left disfigured and often blind.

As late as the 1960s smallpox claimed over two million lives a year, but it was finally eradicated in 1977, a success for the World Health Organisation.

The next step, to destroy all remaining laboratory samples of the virus was promised, but never taken.

The proposal for genetic modification involves inserting a fluorescent protein into the virus. It will glow green if the virus is alive, but won't show if it is dead, so it is claimed it is a fast and safe test for antivirals.

Critics of this research don't agree. They say it will open a Pandora’s box of genetic manipulation of dangerous viruses and may even end up defeating the WHO's stated purpose, which is to be ready with treatment should smallpox be released. They point out that the last person to die from smallpox did so after the virus escaped from a laboratory and they say the only real way to protect the world from this disease is to destroy it once and for all.

Imogen Foulkes, BBC News, Geneva

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over a quarter
¼ - more than twenty-five per cent (25%)

containing harmful bacteria (very small life-forms that can produce more of themselves very quickly)

claimed over two million lives
killed more than two million people

finally eradicated
after many years and a lot of effort, there was no more smallpox

The next step
the thing that you do immediately after finishing another related activity

promised, but never taken
(The next step ... promised, but never taken) - Something that everyone had agreed to do but, in the end, didn't do. Here, although 'promise' and 'take' are together, 'take' refers to 'step'

genetic modification
to change the gene of a plant or animal (note: a gene is part of the cell that forms anything that is alive) - genetic manipulation is the same as genetic modification

drugs used to treat health problems caused by viruses (very small living things)

open a Pandora’s box
start something that will cause a lot of problems and which will be difficult to stop

destroy it once and for all
damage something so much that it no longer exists and will not exist again

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