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County health workers may get smallpox vaccinations

 

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Hill County medical health professionals could receive vaccinations for the smallpox virus beginning in January or February.

The vaccinations are part of a nationwide program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plan calls for more than 500,000 public health officials and first-responders to receive the vaccination in preparation for public health disasters and potential bioterrorist attacks.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for implementing the program at the state level.

A terrorist attack is unlikely, according to a press release Friday by Terry Krantz, chief of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Unit.

"The probability of an intentional release of smallpox is low, but because the consequences of an outbreak would be great, preparations are necessary," the statement said.

Krantz called the measure precautionary.

"Vaccinating our health care workforce prior to a confirmed case will help assure that medical teams and first-responders are protected so they can then focus on protecting the public if necessary," he said.

The vaccinations are given on a strictly voluntary basis.

"There are no plans at this time to vaccinate the general public," the release said, although preparations for such action "are being made in the event President Bush makes such a request."

More than 3,000 public health officials in Montana could receive the vaccination, Krantz said in an interview Tuesday.

In a pre-event plan submitted to local health departments Monday night, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services outlined steps for establishing teams of preinoculated medical workers.

About 15 million doses of the vaccine are available for use, and an additional 200 million are in production, according to the CDC.

Montana does not have a current supply of the vaccine, Krantz said. The CDC is responsible for distributing the vaccine to the states.

Humans are the only natural hosts of smallpox, and it cannot be transmitted through animals or insects, according to the CDC.

Smallpox was eradicated in the United States in 1949, and the last naturally occurring case was documented in 1977 in Somalia.

When receiving a vaccination, people are given an injection of vaccinia, a virus that is similar to smallpox. Unlike other vaccines, a live virus is used.

The smallpox vaccine has a 95 percent success rate. The vaccine is administered with a bifurcated, or two-pronged needle, normally in the upper arm. The skin is pricked 15 times during a procedure that lasts several seconds. Typically, the affected area will blister, then heal within three weeks.

The vaccine is not recommended for infants, organ transplant patients, people with AIDS, or pregnant women. People with underdeveloped immune systems can have a toxic reaction to the vaccine, according to the CDC.

Cindy Smith, director of nursing for the Hill County Health Department, said local health officials will hold a meeting Friday afternoon to discuss the plan.

 
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