Emergency teams get smallpox protection

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Sun, Nov 4, 2001

Emergency teams get smallpox protection

Doctor training, vaccinations are preparatory steps THE NEW YORK TIMES

ATLANTA -- The government has begun taking steps to cope with the possibility of a terrorist attack involving smallpox by training doctors to recognize the disease and by vaccinating small teams of experts who would go to any part of the country to contain and treat a suspected outbreak.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is taking the steps, say they have no evidence that anyone is readying a terrorist attack using smallpox, a disease that was eradicated worldwide 21years ago. But they say that smallpox is so deadly that it is important to be ready.

The smallpox virus is known to exist only in laboratories in the United States and Russia. But germ-warfare experts suspect that other countries, including North Korea and Iraq, may have secretly obtained stocks. It is greatly feared as a weapon because it is contagious, it has a high death rate, and much of the world's population is susceptible.

Last week, the CDC vaccinated about 140 members of epidemiologic teams that can be summoned at a moment's notice to examine a suspected case anywhere in the country.

This week, the CDC will begin a series of training courses in smallpox for certain of its own employees and state and local health workers. Additional courses will be held over the next several weeks at the federal agency's headquarters here.

The vaccinations and course are part of a broader effort by health officials to respond quickly to new bioterrorism threats that might follow the recent deliberate spread of anthrax through the mail.

"Our concerns are not limited to anthrax," said Dr. James M. Hughes, who directs the federal agency's center for infectious diseases. Those concerns include such diseases as botulism, plague, tularemia and smallpox.

Smallpox is a particular worry because of its potential to spread quickly. Tens of millions of Americans under the age of 30 are susceptible to smallpox because they were never vaccinated; the United States stopped smallpox immunizations in 1972. Tens of millions of older people are thought to have decreased protection because the vaccine may have worn off.

Another worry is that generations of American doctors have never seen a case of smallpox. The only ones who have are a few hundred doctors who participated in the World Health Organization's smallpox-eradication program.

Mass vaccination is not considered the appropriate medical response to an outbreak of smallpox. But if epidemiologic information determines that the virus was introduced widely through the air then mass vaccination might be required.

This story can be found at : http://www.journalnow.com/wsj/news/MGB5DE67MTC.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 04, 2001

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