The facts on smallpox scary as hell

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The facts on smallpox scary as hell

By Adrienne Sanders Of The Examiner Staff

Lost in the flurry of news reports about smallpox are several frightening realities:

There is no test for the disease and no cure -- you and your doctor won't know you've been infected until it's too late.

It will kill many people -- possibly thousands -- before anyone knows it has been unleashed.

If you were vaccinated as a child, you're probably not immune.

There is a vaccine, but you cannot get it from your doctor.

San Francisco's medical community is whispering a few extra prayers these days, hoping terrorists don't resurrect the painful, disfiguring disease that killed hundreds of millions before being extinguished in 1980.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that it would begin a series of training courses for state and county health workers -- such as emergency room doctors -- to help them recognize the disease, that won't do much good for those who have it.

Unlike anthrax, which can be treated in many cases once diagnosed, there is no test for smallpox. Once it is discovered, it is too late for the victim.

"If any one case of smallpox is found, there will be a huge emphasis on the disease from the medical community," said Robert Lull, president-elect of the San Francisco Medical Society. "For someone to reintroduce smallpox would be a real terror to all humankind."

Smallpox kills one-third of its victims, and an outbreak in San Francisco could cripple The City and make the nation's anthrax troubles look like chickenpox.

It is so dangerous, terrorists releasing the virus would almost certainly become infected.

So far, CDC officials say they have no evidence that terrorists are preparing to unleash the scourge. The only known vials of the virus exist in laboratories in the United States and Russia, but scientists from the former Soviet Union could have smuggled it out of the country and sold it on the black market. Bioterrorism experts suspect Iraq and North Korea have clandestine stockpiles.

Infected patients develop fevers of at least 102 degrees and sores all over their body, particularly on their faces, palms and soles of their feet. Initial symptoms begin to appear about 12 days after exposure to the virus. People with the disease are most infectious during the first week of illness, before they are symptomatic, according to the CDC.

That means if one person catches smallpox, she can contaminate many others before realizing she has the disease. Though the CDC says receiving the vaccine within four days of exposure may decrease the disease's severity, it is very unlikely a person would be aware she was exposed. And even when used, the vaccine's effectiveness is questionable.

"The vaccine doesn't work as a treatment," Lull said. "It may take a few days to a few weeks to develop protective antibodies against it."

Once a patient shows full-blown smallpox, it's too late to treat, and the patient must immediately be placed in quarantine.

The threat to the United States is grave because tens of millions of Americans Gen-X and younger were not vaccinated. Immunizations ceased in 1972. The CDC says people who have been vaccinated ought not assume they are safe because their immunity has likely decreased substantially.

The CDC has a limited supply of the vaccine -- 15 million doses -- but it is racing to produce 300 million more by next year. It is not releasing doses to doctors. The government has no plans to use the vaccination as a mass preventative measure since serious complications, including brain inflammations, sometimes arise from the vaccination.

And even those experienced in germ warfare don't know what the next wave of terror will bring.

"It's worse than trying to predict the stock market," Lull said.

http://www.examiner.com/news/default.jsp?story=n.smallpox.1109w

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 10, 2001

Answers

It is so dangerous, terrorists releasing the virus would almost certainly become infected. Not if they've had the vaccine, I presume.

JOJ

-- joj (jump@off.c), November 10, 2001.


"Initial symptoms begin to appear about 12 days after exposure to the virus. People with the disease are most infectious during the first week of illness, before they are symptomatic, according to the CDC"

I wonder why the local emergency preparedness officer of the sheriff's dept, who addressed our neighborhood three days ago, said that symptoms begin to appear in four days. Also, he told us that people were not contagious until the sores show up.

On the other hand, one of my neighbors told him that he thought it was contagious before the sores showed up, and the cop guy said, well, some people say that's true.

Wouldn't you think that, with all the experience we've had, worldwide, they would at least know the anwers to these questions?

JOJ

-- joj (jump@off.c), November 10, 2001.


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