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Comp Immunol Microbiol Infect Dis. 2003 Oct;26(5-6):423-30.

Smallpox vaccination and bioterrorism with pox viruses.

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Institute of Microbiology, Infectious and Epidemic Diseases of the Veterinary, Faculty of the Ludwig-Maximilian, University of Munich, Weiheimer Strasse 1, 823 19, Starnberg, Germany.


Bioterrorist attacks occupy a special place amongst the innumerable potential types of terrorist attack, with the intentional release of pox viruses being especially feared in this connection. Apart from the variola virus, the agent responsible for smallpox in humans, the monkeypox virus and numerous other animal pox viruses pose potential risks for humans and animals. This risk scenario also includes recombinations between the various pox viruses, changes in hosts and genetically engineered manipulations of pox viruses. For over 200 years, the method of choice for combatting smallpox was via vaccination with a reproductive, original vaccinia virus. Worldwide eradication of smallpox at the end of the 1970s and the discontinuation of routine smallpox vaccination in 1980 can be credited to such vaccination. Unfortunately, these vaccinations were associated with a large number of postvaccinal impairments, sometimes resulting in death (e.g. postvaccinal encephalitis). The only way to restrict such postvaccinal complications was to carry out initial vaccination within the first 2 postnatal years. Initial vaccination at a later age led to such a sharp increase in the number of vaccines with complications that vaccination had to be discouraged. The dilemma of the smallpox vaccine stocks stems from the fact that a large portion of these stocks are produced with the same vaccinia strains as before. This is irresponsible, especially as the percentage of immune-suppressed persons in the population, for whom vaccination-related complications pose an especial threat, is increasing. One solution to the dilemma of the smallpox vaccine stocks is the MVA strain. It is harmless, protects humans and animals equally well against smallpox and can be applied parenterally.

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