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Bull World Health Organ. 2003;81(10):762-7. Epub 2003 Nov 25.

Smallpox and bioterrorism.

Author information

  • Department of Medical Biology, University of Aberdeen, Medical School Building, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, United Kingdom. t.h.pennington@abdn.ac.uk

Abstract

Smallpox was declared to be eradicated on 8 May 1980, during the Thirty-third World Health Assembly. However, concerns about the possible use of the virus as a weapon of bioterrorism have increased in recent years. Governments have responded by initiating selective vaccination programmes and other public health measures. This review uses historical data from 20th century outbreaks to assess the risks to current populations (which have declining immunity) from a deliberate release of virus. The data presented supports the conclusion of a previous reviewer (Mack) that "smallpox cannot be said to live up to its reputation. Far from being a quick-footed menace, it has appeared as a plodding nuisance with more bark than bite." Its R value (the average number of secondary cases infected by a primary case) is lower than that for measles, human parvovirus, chickenpox, mumps, rubella, and poliomyelitis; only the value for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is lower. Like SARS, close person-to-person contact is required for effective spread of the disease, and exposure to the virus in hospitals has played an important role in transmission for both viruses. In the present paper the dangers of mass vaccination are emphasized, along with the importance of case isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine of close contacts for outbreak control. The need for rapid diagnosis and the continued importance of maintaining a network of electron microscopes for this purpose are also highlighted.

PMID:
14758439
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2572332
Free PMC Article
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