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U.S. Sees First Cases of Smallpox Shot Reactions

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posted on Feb, 27 2003 @ 09:05 PM
U.S. Sees First Cases of Smallpox Shot Reactions

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three people vaccinated against smallpox as part of U.S. preparations for a possible biological attack developed symptoms that could be an adverse reaction to the shots, health officials said on Thursday.

None of the cases is life-threatening and two of them appear to be associated with other conditions, but health officials are scrutinizing any reactions from the program, which has run into considerable public resistance.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) said a 39-year-old woman, a nurse, developed a general rash that could be generalized vaccinia -- a skin infection caused by the vaccine -- and said a 60-year-old man developed chest pain.

Both lived in Florida, the CDC said.

The rash is a well-known side effect of the vaccine, while chest pain, or angina (news - web sites), is not, the CDC said. The chest pain patient had a history of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease.

In addition, Florida health officials reported a third possible case. "The third individual appears to have suffered acute gallbladder inflammation resulting in removal of the gallbladder," the Florida Department of Health said.

Gallbladder troubles are not known to be a side-effect of smallpox shots.

"Although two of the individuals appear to have suffered ailments that have no previously known association with the smallpox vaccine, it has been several decades since individuals were vaccinated against smallpox, and we must therefore report on even the most unlikely associated clinical events," Florida Health Secretary Dr. John Agwunobi said.

The vaccine is generally safe but sometimes people can develop a reaction. When in general use, it was known to have killed one to two people per million vaccinated, and made up to 52 per million seriously ill.

The vaccination program was begun when after fears of possible terrorist incidents were raised after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The CDC's Dr. Eric Mast said the agency was erring on the side of caution in reporting illnesses in people vaccinated. "We have known from the outset that reactions will occur," Mast told a telephone briefing.

"We know that there will be a wide range of illnesses that are reported. We need to recognize that some of them may be caused by the vaccine and some may not be," Mast said, adding the CDC would investigate all reported adverse events.

Overall, 7,354 civilian health care and public health workers have been vaccinated against smallpox as part of the program. The U.S. Health and Human Services (news - web sites) Department hopes to eventually vaccinate 450,000 health care workers in the first round of the program.

These people will then be able to vaccinate up to 10 million more health and emergency workers and police in case it is needed.

But the month-old program is off to a very slow start. Unions have resisted the vaccination plan until issues over compensation of those who do get sick are resolved.

HHS and Congress are working on a plan to cover health workers who may lose time from work due to vaccine-related illness.

The smallpox vaccine is decades old, because smallpox was declared eradicated around the world in 1979. It uses a live virus called vaccinia, which is related to smallpox.

The man with chest pain was treated with angioplasty to clear a clogged artery. The woman's rash is healing, Mast said, and her pustules have been tested to see if they contain vaccinia virus.
He said she was not ill enough to have been hospitalized.

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