|| DukeMedNews || Smallpox Backgrounder

Background Information on Smallpox
Duke Smallpox Vaccination of Employees and Essential Care Providers
Additional Information

Background Information on Smallpox

Smallpox is a serious, contagious and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by the variola virus.

Although the disease was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980, small quantities of the smallpox virus still exist in research laboratories around the world, and security experts speculate that terrorists could acquire samples of the virus for use in an attack against the United States.

The virus is normally spread through direct face-to-face contact with infected persons, through contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects including bedding or clothing. In rare cases, the virus has been spread through the air in enclosed settings such as buildings, buses or trains.

Symptoms of smallpox generally begin with high fever, head and body aches and sometimes vomiting. A rash follows that spreads and progresses to raised bumps and pus-filled blisters that crust, scab and fall off after about three weeks, leaving a pitted scar.

Smallpox proves fatal in about 30 percent of cases, although many survivors are left with permanent scarring or blindness.

There is no proven treatment for smallpox. Smallpox can be prevented by vaccination, and vaccination within three or four days of exposure to the smallpox virus will prevent the development of smallpox in most people.

Routine smallpox vaccination ended in the United States in 1972. Past experience indicates that the first dose of smallpox vaccine offers protection from smallpox for three to five years.

The smallpox vaccine is made form a virus called vaccinia that helps the body develop immunity to smallpox. The vaccine does not contain the smallpox virus and cannot give you smallpox. Historically, the vaccine has been effective in preventing smallpox infection in 95 percent of those vaccinated.

Duke Smallpox Vaccination of Employees and Essential Care Providers

In light of concerns about a potential association between smallpox vaccination and cardiac side effects, further vaccination of employees at Duke have been suspended at this time. Our primary concern in implementing the federal pre-event vaccination plan has always been the safety of our personnel. Twenty-three people at Duke University Health System have been vaccinated since late February; there have been no significant adverse events within the health system. We await the results of epidemiologic investigations and additional recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prior to the resumption of vaccination.

For additional information concerning Duke’s plan for smallpox vaccinations, contact the Duke University Medical Center News Office at 919-684-4148.

Additional information about smallpox:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

White House news release

Duke University Medical Center smallpox vaccine study