04/14/2011 04:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2011

Smallpox Virus Destruction: Scientists Weigh Destroying Last Known Samples (POLL)

Smallpox is officially on the chopping block.

But whether it will actually be destroyed or not, remains to be seen. The World Health Assembly decided the samples should be destroyed in 1996, but since then the debate has caused them to continue to exist, according to PopSci.

In May the World Health Organization will meet to decide on the final fate of the remaining examples of the disease, according to LiveScience. Discussions began in January.

There are only two remaining samples left, one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and another at a Russian facility in Siberia. The delay in destruction of the samples has been led by the U.S. and Russia (as well as a number of other developed nations), who argue that they could be used in order to create new treatments in the future.

Many developing countries, however, have pushed for eradication of the disease as it would be harder to quell were it to resurface within their borders, wrote PopSci. Some also fear that other, secret, samples may exist, and destroying the known samples could be dangerous.

From PopSci:

Officials in the U.S. and Russia have said they will fight efforts to set a destruction date, arguing the viruses are needed for research and to guard against bioterrorism. Some fear nations like North Korea or Iran may possess secret samples, although those countries deny it.

The last natural case of smallpox occurred in 1977 in Somalia, but prior to that the disease ravaged mankind for centuries. According to LiveScience, about one-third of all those ever infected with the disease have died.

The virus would be the second in history to have been eradicated through a vaccination campaign.