Variola major is the causative agent of smallpox, a severe disease that was arguably one of the most serious human pathogens in recorded history. Humans are the only known reservoir of variola major; no known animal or insect reservoirs have been identified. Thus, after eradication of smallpox through a global immunization effort, this incredibly lethal scourge was eliminated from all corners of the globe. Despite the total eradication of naturally occurring smallpox, there are still stockpiles of smallpox virus maintained in the United States and the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if all smallpox stocks have been accounted for or whether unknown or unreported stocks of smallpox may still exist. In the age of genetic engineering, these viruses could theoretically be modified to increase their virulence to the levels associated with smallpox itself.
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