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Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 2005 Apr;12(4):520-4.

Persisting humoral antiviral immunity within the Japanese population after the discontinuation in 1976 of routine smallpox vaccinations.

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Department of Infectious Diseases, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.


Concerns have arisen recently about the possible use of smallpox for a bioterrorism attack. Routine smallpox vaccination was discontinued in Japan in 1976; however, it is uncertain exactly how long vaccination-induced immunity lasts. We sought to evaluate the seroprevalence and intensity of anti-smallpox immunity among representatives of the present Japanese population. The subjects included 876 individuals who were born between 1937 and 1982. Vaccinia virus-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), and 152 of 876 samples were also tested for the presence of neutralizing antibodies. Of the subjects who were born before 1962, between 1962 and 1968, and between 1969 and 1975, 98.6, 98.6, and 66.0%, respectively, still retained the vaccinia virus-specific IgG with ELISA values for optical density at 405 nm (OD(405)) of > or = 0.10. The corresponding figures for retained IgGs with OD405 values of > or = 0.30 were 91.0, 90.3, and 58.2%, respectively. Neutralizing antibodies were also maintained. The sera with OD(405) values of > or = 0.30 showed 89% sensitivity and a 93% positive predictive value for detection of neutralizing antibodies (> or = 4). Thus, approximately 80% of persons born before 1969 and 50% of those born between 1969 and 1975 were also found to have maintained neutralizing antibodies against smallpox. A considerable proportion of the previous vaccinated individuals still retain significant levels of antiviral immunity. This long-lasting immunity may provide some protective benefits in the case of reemergence of smallpox, and the disease may not spread as widely and fatally as generally expected.

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