8th Grade - Standard Check #2 - Central Idea
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“Celebrating the Death of a Killer”
by Aisha B. Boulos

1. The year 2012 marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the last naturally occurring case of the highly contagious
smallpox virus on the planet. The victim of the disfiguring and sometimes deadly affliction was a young man in the East
African country of Somalia. Fortunately, after prompt treatment, the patient survived this deadly disease that has
plagued humanity for centuries.

2. Two and a half years later, at a gala celebration at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health
Organization (WHO) officially declared that the disease had finally been eradicated. The history of smallpox stretches
back over 3,500 years. The peoples of the world owe a debt of gratitude to WHO.

3. How did a single agency of the United Nations, with very little money and only a limited, meager staff,
vanquish this killer disease in only a decade (1967-1977)? The story of the eradication of smallpox might seem like a
hoax, if it were not for the fact that it is entirely true. It is a tale of persistence, determination, and the imaginative
handling of stiff challenges.

4. In 1959, smallpox was present in 59 countries, all of them located in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Experts
have estimated that there were about 10 million new cases annually. Approximately one third were fatal. In the previous
century, the smallpox virus had caused the deaths of at least half a billion people. This staggering total may be compared
with the roughly 150 million deaths caused by warfare during the same period. For many of those meditating a global
attack on smallpox, their intentions and hopes must have seemed wan and weak indeed. No other disease had ever
been eradicated worldwide before. Even the director-general of WHO suggested that such an inflated goal might lie
beyond the pale.

5. Nevertheless, the WHO team, refusing to heed conventional wisdom, sallied forth in January 1967. It was led
by the American epidemiologist D.A. Henderson. His study of smallpox and its characteristics convinced Henderson that
the team could meet the challenge. First, the virus infected only humans, so there was no reservoir in nature. Each
infected person exhibited a telltale rash. If victims were isolated immediately, they could be prevented from
transmitting the virus to others. Perhaps most critical of all, experts had developed a stable, inexpensive, freeze-dried
vaccine against smallpox. A single vaccination provided immunity for at least 10 years.

6. Despite these advantages, however, the WHO team had to confront formidable obstacles. Besides the
skepticism of senior officials, the WHO staff members had to deal with roads in terribly disrepair, broken-down vehicles,
war zones, and cultural geographical barriers. Large mountainous areas of Ethiopia, for instance, were inaccessible
except for pedestrians or for travelers on mule-back. Communication was an ongoing problem. Drought, famine, and
tides of refugees oppressed the team’s efforts in some areas.

7. Yet somehow the team got it done. By 1980, a cosmopolitan and impartial killer with billions of victims around
the world, including emperors and monarchs, was gone. Ramses V of Egypt, Joseph I of Austria, Louis XV of France: All
their wealth and power did little to elongate their lives once they contracted smallpox. A small but intrepid team from
WHO turned out to be the disease’s most potent adversary.
Which statement best describes the central idea of the article? (R.I. 1.2) *
Which line from the text justifies your response to number 1? (R.I 1.1) *
What is the central idea of paragraph 4? (R.I. 1.2) *
What is the definition of the word, formidable, as used in paragraph 6? (R.I. 2.4) *
Which two lines belong in an objective summary of the text? (R.I. 1.2) *
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