Mass vaccination unnecessary in the event of a large bioterrorist US smallpox attack

SEATTLE Mass vaccination would not be necessary in the event of a large-scale smallpox bioterrorist attack in the United States, according to a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that appears online in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Instead, the current U.S. government policy of post-release surveillance, prompt containment of victims and vaccination of hospital workers and close contacts would be sufficient to thwart an epidemic, according to lead author Ira M. Longini Jr., Ph.D., a world leader in using mathematical and statistical methods to study the natural course of infectious diseases.

"We found that a well-prepared response of surveillance and containment, if done quickly, within a day or two of detecting the first smallpox case, would contain a large attack if up to 500 people were infected," said Longini, a member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center and a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine. These results apply to scenarios involving even the most virulent, fatal forms of the virus.

However, Longini emphasizes, failure to quickly isolate known smallpox cases and vaccinate their close contacts could thwart the containment of an epidemic.

These findings emerge from a committee of smallpox experts including infectious-disease modelers, epidemiologists, statisticians and clinicians who were commissioned by former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson to evaluate a variety of intervention strategies to determine whether the United States could contain a large-scale smallpox bioterrorist attack and, if so, how.

Specifically, the researchers were charged with determining whether surveillance and containment isolation of detected smallpox cases and vaccination of their close contacts would be sufficient to contain a large attack. They also wanted to find out whether oth

Contact: Kristen Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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