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Clin Infect Dis. 2004 Dec 1;39(11):1668-73. Epub 2004 Nov 8.

Rethinking smallpox.

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Department of Medicine, Veterans Administration, Sepulveda, CA 91343, USA.


The potential consequences of a competently executed smallpox attack have not been adequately considered by policy makers. The possibility of release of an aerosolized and/or bioengineered virus must be anticipated and planned for. The transmission and infectivity of variola virus are examined. Arguments for and against pre-event vaccination are offered. The likely morbidity and mortality that would ensue from implementation of a mass pre-event vaccination program, within reasonable boundaries, are known. The extent of contagion that could result from an aerosolized release of virus is unknown and may have been underestimated. Pre-event vaccination of first responders is urged, and voluntary vaccination programs should be offered to the public. Two defenses against a vaccine-resistant, engineered variola virus are proposed for consideration. Methisazone, an overlooked drug, is reported to be effective for prophylaxis only. The extent of reduction in the incidence of smallpox with use of this agent is uncertain. It is useless for treatment of clinical smallpox. N-100 respirators (face masks) worn by uninfected members of the public may prevent transmission of the virus.

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