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Health workers to get smallpox vaccine

January 27, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

About 50 Washington County health care workers will soon be voluntarily vaccinated for smallpox in preparation for the possibility they will need to inoculate others against an outbreak of the highly contagious disease, county Health Officer William Christoffel said Friday.

"These people will be the vaccinators," he said.

Plans for the vaccinations were on hold until federal legislation for "smallpox countermeasures" was signed by President Bush.

"This is the trigger that had to be pulled," Christoffel said.

The law suggests the smallpox vaccine be given to some health care workers so they can vaccinate others.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked all states to develop a plan to be prepared in the event of an outbreak.

The request is in response to fears of a terrorist attack in which the virus could be released and spread among the population.

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A team of workers from Washington County Hospital and the Washington County Health Department will be vaccinated, probably in early February, Christoffel said. A second team of workers from the two agencies will be vaccinated later.

The plan is precautionary and there is no expectation that the area will experience a smallpox outbreak, he said.

The vaccinations are being staggered because of the possibility that some who receive them will suffer side effects, Christoffel said. The most common side effects are flu-like symptoms.

There will be six health department workers vaccinated on each team, Christoffel said. He did not know how many hospital workers will be vaccinated.

The hospital was asked to provide a maximum of 100 volunteers but is hoping to get closer to 20 to 30 volunteers, Dr. Robert Brooks, vice president of medical affairs for the hospital, said Wednesday.

Some employees have expressed interest in volunteering for the work, but he did not want to say how many have done so, he said.

People from all departments are needed to volunteer, he said. Inoculated workers will be needed to provide clerical help, cleaning, food preparation, custodial help and other tasks in the event of an outbreak.

The two teams will later provide the vaccination to at least 50 other people in the county, including some from fire and rescue companies, Christoffel said.

Based on studies from the 1960s, experts estimate that one or two out of every 1 million people who get the vaccine for the first time will die, and about 15 will face life-threatening illness.

The incubation period for smallpox is about 12 days following exposure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Initial symptoms include high fever, fatigue and headaches and backaches. A characteristic rash, most prominent on the face, arms and legs, follows in two to three days.

The disease has not been reported in the United States for decades, and routine vaccinations ended in 1972. The disease was declared eradicated in 1980, but experts fear it could be intentionally released by terrorists or a hostile nation.

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