Can smallpox infection be prevented? continued...
Also, there is a smallpox vaccine(What is a PDF document?). It has vaccinia virus in it, which is like the smallpox virus but safer. If you get the shot before you've been exposed to smallpox, it will likely protect you for at least 3 to 5 years. And having a second shot later can protect you for an even longer period of time.
The shot works even if you don't get it in advance. Most people who get the smallpox shot within 3 days after they've been exposed to the virus will have no symptoms or will have symptoms that aren't as severe. Getting a shot 4 to 7 days after exposure may also help.1
People who have very close contact with a person who has gotten a smallpox vaccine can get an infection from the virus used in the vaccine. The infection usually causes a minor skin rash and is not smallpox. So the site where the smallpox vaccine was given should be covered until the scab falls off.
In the past, when a smallpox infection was diagnosed, infected people were kept away from others to prevent the spread of infection. Everyone who might have been exposed to the virus was then vaccinated. This practice, called ring vaccination, played a key role in wiping out smallpox. Many experts think it would be better to carry out ring vaccination before mass vaccination if there were a case today.
Because there are risks of a serious reaction from the vaccine, routine smallpox immunization doesn't occur. All children and most adults in the U.S. today have a chance of getting infected if they are exposed to the smallpox virus.
Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., more vaccine has been made. The U.S. government has enough smallpox vaccine for all Americans in case of an outbreak.1
The smallpox vaccine is recommended for laboratory workers who handle the vaccinia virus, for members of smallpox response teams, and for certain people in the military. For accurate, up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox.