Smallpox effort begins in February

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 11:16 p.m.
Tom Belcuore called it "Day Zero." The director of the Alachua County Health Department referred on Tuesday to a time in February when a handful of contagious disease trackers and emergency room personnel will receive a vaccination for smallpox - a disease that was eradicated in the 1970s.
Fear that terrorist nations could release smallpox to the population led President George Bush in December to decide to make the vaccine available to everyone, starting first with the frontline defenders against a bioterror attack.
"There is an uncertainly in the world of who has stocks of smallpox," Belcuore told the Alachua County Commission on Tuesday.
"It does allow for the need to have some readiness and preparedness," he said.
The vaccination program, which will be voluntary, is to be offered to those most likely to come into contact with the disease in a laboratory or from an infected patient.
Epidemiologists from the Health Department and hospital personnel, who are members of the county's smallpox response team, will go first, Belcuore said. He did not give an exact date.
A second group of emergency medical technicians, law enforcement and health-care workers will follow with their vaccinations about 30 days later.
It is not known when the vaccine will be available to Alachua County residents, although it is not recommended for most people.
The vaccine carries rare but serious side effects. One or two out of every one million patients will be killed by the vaccine, and 15 will face life-threatening complications. Everyone else could face some flu-like symptoms.
As a result, Belcuore said health-care workers would be screened.
"There are some very clear contraindications," Belcuore said.
People with suppressed immune systems from chemotherapy, AIDS, lupus or other reasons will be excluded. People with certain types of dermatitis, pregnant women and people with allergies to antibiotics would also be left out.
Routine smallpox vaccinations ended in the United States in 1972, meaning that nearly half the population is without any protection from the virus.
Health officials aren't sure whether those vaccinated decades ago are still protected from the disease.
But Belcuore said those who have been vaccinated may still see a benefit.
"If you have been vaccinated, your chances of having problems are diminished," Belcuore said.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@

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