What We Don't Know About the Smallpox Vaccine
Experts do not know how many of those vaccinated or revaccinated for smallpox before 1972 can still get sick if exposed today.
- Place smallpox patients in medical isolation so that they will not spread the virus.
- Take special precautions to ensure that all bedding and clothing of patients are cleaned using bleach and hot water.
- Clean contaminated surfaces with disinfectants, such as bleach or ammonia.
- Within three days, vaccinate people who have come into direct and prolonged face-to-face contact with smallpox patients. Closely watch them for symptoms of smallpox.
- In an aerosol release, widespread decontamination is not necessary, since the airborne virus rapidly blows away from the area and particles die on their own within one to two days.
- Physicians typically use a "ring vaccination" approach, vaccinating the circle of people who may have come in contact with a smallpox patient and the family contacts of this group of people in order to provide a ring of protection from further spread. This approach was successfully used in the past to control outbreaks until smallpox was finally eradicated.
Assessing the Risk
- The smallpox virus has a low availability, as the only two confirmed repositories for the virus are in high-containment laboratories in the United States and Russia. Still, there is concern that some countries may have secretly retained their smallpox samples for bioweapons research and production.
- The smallpox virus is highly stable (can survive for one to two days) in aerosol form.
- Terrorists would have to be moderately skilled to produce the smallpox virus in aerosol form if they could acquire the virus.
- Smallpox is highly lethal because it kills approximately 30 percent of those infected; it is quite contagious and spreads from person to person.
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