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Antiviral Res. 2003 Apr;58(2):101-14.

Pathogenesis and potential antiviral therapy of complications of smallpox vaccination.

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  • 1Biodefense Clinical Research Branch, Office of Clinical Research, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Vaccination against smallpox may result in a variety of complications, ranging in severity from benign to lethal. Universal vaccination was halted in the US in 1972, so almost half the present population has never been vaccinated. Because side effects occur most often in first-time vaccinees, current plans for rapid large-scale vaccination in the event of bioterrorist attack raise concerns about the occurrence of a large number of adverse events. Most complications result from the excessive replication of vaccinia virus, making them potential targets for antiviral therapy. Effective treatment is especially needed for persons with atopic dermatitis or eczema, who are unusually susceptible to the initiation and spread of vaccinia infection because of defects of innate immunity in the skin, and for individuals with defective cell-mediated immunity, who are unable to eliminate vaccinia infection once it has begun. In the past, many complications were treated with vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) and/or the antiviral drug methisazone, but neither was tested in placebo-controlled trials. New antiviral drugs are now available, but have not yet been evaluated for treating vaccinia infections in humans. Both laboratory research and clinical studies are needed to help prevent serious complications in any major vaccination campaign.

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