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Contact Illness Seen From Smallpox Shot

Unvaccinated People Need to Protect Themselves From Infection
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WebMD Health News

March 6, 2003 -- Officials warned Americans about the possibility of getting sick from close contact with someone who has received the smallpox vaccine. And now the CDC reports two such cases have occurred five weeks into the civilian smallpox vaccination program.

The smallpox vaccine uses a live virus called vaccinia instead of smallpox virus itself. Because the vaccine is a living virus, infection can occur from contact by someone who isn't vaccinated with someone who is. Infection can spread to others who touch either the vaccination site or bandages covering it, says the CDC.

In its weekly Morbidity and Mortality WeeklyReport, the CDC states that two moderate-to-severe adverse events have been reported -- both traced to contact with military personnel who received the smallpox vaccine.

Both people came in contact with the live virus in the vaccine. Both developed ocular vaccinia, a potentially serious infection that develops on the eyelid and the eye. Treatment is aimed at preventing complications, including scarring of the cornea.

In one case, a 26-year old woman slept in the same bed several times a week over a three-week period with a military man who had been vaccinated. He reportedly did not keep his vaccination site covered with a bandage at all times. The woman became ill with swelling, pain, and discharge from the right eye. Over the course of one week, the entire right side of her face became swollen. She had difficulty opening her eye and her vision was impaired. Once she was correctly diagnosed and treated -- with antiviral eye drops and an antibody injection against vaccinia -- her condition improved within 24 hours.

In the second case, an 18-year old woman handled the bandage of a military man who had been vaccinated. She began developing lesions three days later, including one on her right eye. She also showed marked improvement within 24 hours of getting a correct diagnosis and treatment.

People who have been vaccinated must take proper care of the vaccination site, the CDC says. Also, unvaccinated people who have contact with the vaccine should protect themselves to prevent these infections.

As part of its ongoing vaccine surveillance, the CDC also reports that three people who received the smallpox vaccine developed serious adverse reactions, including headache and dizziness.

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