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Keep Them or Not?

The explosion and fire earlier this week at a Russian lab that stores dangerous pathogens has rekindled the question of whether such samples should even be kept, NPR reports.

The Guardian reported that a gas explosion occurred on the fifth floor of the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology and sparked a fire. The explosion took place in a sanitary inspection room that was undergoing repairs, and local officials told the Guardian that the public was not exposed to any pathogens. According to NPR, the World Health Organization has said the lab's smallpox and other pathogen stores are secure.

But, NPR writes that the incident raises the old question of whether it is worth keeping smallpox stockpiles at that Russian lab and at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jeffrey Duchin, a member of the board of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and public health officer in Washington State, tells NPR he has supported destroying the stocks. "There is no such thing as 100 percent certainty regarding the potential for inadvertent release," he says.

Inger Damon, though, who works on smallpox at the CDC, argues there is still much to learn. "We want to make sure we have sufficient public health measures for the global community," she tells NPR.