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Old October 21st, 2001, 23:44
sysadmin sysadmin is offline
Join Date: 2001
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no medications have proven effective to treat smallpox

Reprinted from

'No Medications Have Proven Effective' to Treat Smallpox
John Rossomando for
Friday, Oct. 19, 2001

The nation faces a possible threat from a disease that was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980. Bioterrorism experts at the Heritage Foundation fear that smallpox presents a greater threat to the general population than anthrax.

Heritage Foundation Foreign and Defense Policy Analyst Michael Scardaville said smallpox presents a dilemma for the government planners because of its highly contagious nature along with the delay between initial infection and the appearance of the first symptoms of the disease.

According to Scardaville, smallpox symptoms take 5-7 days to develop, consequently "people could [spread] it before anyone knows that there has been an attack."

According to the Virginia Department of Health's "Smallpox Fact Sheet," smallpox is spread by close contact with the mucus of an infected individual or contact with objects contaminated by an ill individual.

The fact sheet states that the initial symptoms of the disease are chills, a high fever around 106 degrees, joint and muscle aches (especially backaches), nausea and vomiting.

A rash will appear on the skin several days after the first symptoms of the disease appear. It is soon followed by the appearance of ulcerating lesions covering all parts of the body, which contaminate bodily fluids with the virus.

Eventually the lesions will scab and then the contaminated scabs will fall off, leaving scars behind. The virus can lead to death if it attacks the eyes, lungs, heart, throat or liver, according to the fact sheet.

"At this time, no medications have proven effective for treating smallpox. Patients with this disease would be given supportive therapy, including treatment to keep the patient as comfortable as possible by keeping the skin clean, trying to control the itching, relieving the pain and other symptoms as much as possible," the fact sheet said.

The Virginia Department of Health also reports that the only known samples of the smallpox virus are at the Centers for Disease Control facility in Atlanta, Ga., and at the Institute for Viral Preparations in Koltsovo, Russia. The health department said the existence of other smallpox stockpiles could not be confirmed.

Smallpox Virus Falling in the Wrong Hands

The Heritage Foundation report also reaffirms the difficulty of obtaining the smallpox virus.

"It is more difficult to obtain smallpox than anthrax," Scardaville said. "The only legal stockpiles are at the CDC and a laboratory in Russia, but Russia had an extensive biological weapons program during the Cold War."

"They were supposed to have developed a weaponized version of smallpox," he said.

Scardaville speculates that some Russian scientists who worked on the Soviet bioweapons may have sold their services to the highest bidder, and that the security of the Russian smallpox samples may have been compromised.

"The security at the Russian plants is far from excellent, and it is not inconceivable that some scientists or [Russian] mafia member ... could have put a small amount of the culture into their pocket and walked out, [then] sold it to someone," Scardaville said.

"I am not going to make it sound like [smallpox] is easy to get, but I am not going to make it inconceivable."

Smallpox Vaccine

Smallpox remains a bioterror threat, despite the fact that a vaccine has existed for the disease since Englishman Edward Jenner's discovery in 1796.

The vaccine has been unavailable to health providers and the general public, however, since 1983, according the Virginia Department of Health website, which also states that smallpox vaccinations have not been routine since 1972.

"At the present time, smallpox vaccine is supplied only to certain laboratory workers who are at risk of infection with smallpox-like viruses because of their occupation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not allow the release of smallpox vaccine to any other person for any reason," the Virginia Department of Health report stated.

The CDC maintains a small stockpile (14 million doses of smallpox vaccine) for emergency use, according to the Heritage Foundation.

"Anyone in this country under 30 years hasn't been immunized," Scardaville said. "A government official recently said that they could water it down and still retain the effectiveness; however, we don't have enough for the entire country."

"It's [an] old stockpile, it's not stuff that was made recently," he said. "This was made back in the '70s, so it's probably effective, but who knows?"

Scardaville estimates that it would take up to a year to resume production and amass enough vaccine for the entire population.

According to Scardaville, The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) last summer brought together different government officials, including Gov. Frank Keating, R-Okla., to simulate a smallpox attack in Oklahoma City. The simulation revealed a total inability of government officials to effectively manage a smallpox epidemic, Scardaville said.

"They brought together senior people to play the president, the national security advisor, and such people that could conceivably have those jobs," he said. "Even these senior people with experience in government ... weren't able to prevent 1 million people from dying all over the country, [and] three million people from becoming infected, and a virtual collapse of the civil society in Oklahoma and the surrounding area."

Would Vaccine Cause More Harm?

Some experts also believe the smallpox vaccine has severe health risks.

"The smallpox vaccine is the most reactive [disease causing] vaccine that we have ever used," said Barbara Loe Fisher, spokeswoman for the National Vaccine Information Center. "I do know that brain complications occurred within one to six weeks of the original smallpox vaccination, most frequently after the first dose, and that the reaction rate was between 1 in 159 and 1 in every 6,500 vaccinated persons."

According to Fisher, vaccination-related brain complications were most common in children under 2 years of age, and 50 percent of those children who developed the complications died from them. She also said 35 percent of adults who developed brain complications from the smallpox vaccine also died.

Fisher asserted that "those in fragile health, immune compromised, are at a higher risk," of complications from the vaccine, but individuals who are genetically predisposed against experiencing complications are at a lesser risk for developing disease.

"What we have to do in this crisis situation ... is to keep a perspective and a balance," Fisher said. "In any mass vaccination campaign, you are going to have casualties, and the number of casualties are going to determine if you are screening out" people likely to develop adverse reactions to the vaccine.

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