Infectious diseases: Smallpox watch

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Frozen mummies and envelopes of scabs could contain remnants of one of history’s most prolific killers.

This month, the World Health Assembly — the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) — will meet in Geneva, Switzerland, and decide when to destroy the only known stocks of smallpox virus, held in deep freezes at highly protected laboratories in the United States and Russia. It is a move that has been delayed since the 1980s, and in all likelihood will be put off yet again. But even if the official stocks of virus are destroyed, the chance remains that other batches of the virus could be hidden in a freezer somewhere — or that the pathogen could re-emerge, zombie-like, from a mummified corpse such as the dead woman found in Queens.

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