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Am J Ophthalmol. 2003 Aug;136(2):343-52.

Ocular complications of smallpox vaccination.

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  • 1Pepose Vision Institute, Chesterfield, Missouri 63017, USA.



To describe the ocular complications of smallpox vaccination and to discuss potential therapeutic options.


Review of pertinent medical literature and recent treatment recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


After immunization against smallpox, vaccinia infection of the eyelid, conjunctiva, or ocular surface can result from accidental autoinoculation from a vaccination site before scab formation or from contact with a recently vaccinated individual. While uncommon, corneal involvement can lead to stromal opacification and scarring. Clinical findings of ocular and periocular vaccinia must be differentiated from those produced by other pathogens such as molluscum contagiosum, herpes simplex, varicella zoster, and acanthamoeba infections. Clinical diagnosis can be confirmed by electron microscopy to identify the presence of orthopoxvirus, as well as by virologic culture, polymerase chain reaction, and/or restriction endonuclease analysis of viral isolates.


While the majority of ocular complications of smallpox vaccination in immunocompetent patients are self-limiting, selective cases may require treatment with trifluridine drops, topical corticosteroids and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG). Vaccinia virus does not appear to be sensitive to acyclovir. Specific treatment recommendations are outlined for the spectrum of ocular manifestations.

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