Prevention Against Smallpox

Vaccination and certain health authority measures are among the primary ways to prevent smallpox. The most effective method is to administer the smallpox vaccine; in the event of an emergency, there is enough vaccine for every person in the United States. Health authorities have also devised a detailed plan to protect Americans against the use of smallpox as a biological weapon.

Can Smallpox Be Prevented?

There are no proven treatments for smallpox. Therefore, if smallpox were to return, prevention of smallpox would include:
  • Vaccination with the smallpox vaccine
  • Certain measures taken by the health authority.
One of the best ways to prevent smallpox is through vaccination. If given to a person before exposure to smallpox, the vaccine can completely protect him or her. Vaccination within three days of exposure will prevent or greatly lessen the severity of smallpox in most people. Vaccination four to seven days after exposure likely offers some protection from the disease or may decrease the severity of disease. Vaccination will not protect smallpox patients who already have a rash.
Currently, the smallpox vaccine is not widely available to the general public. However, there is enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate every person in the United States in the event of a smallpox emergency.
Health Response
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a detailed plan to protect Americans against the use of smallpox as a biological weapon. This plan includes the creation and use of special teams of healthcare and public health workers. If a smallpox case is found, these teams will take immediate steps to control the spread of the disease. Smallpox was wiped out through specific public health actions, including vaccination, and these actions could be used again.
In the event of a smallpox outbreak, public health officials will use television, radio, newspapers, the Internet, and other channels to inform members of the public about what to do to protect themselves and their families.
Officials will tell people where to go for care if they think they have smallpox.
Smallpox patients will be isolated (kept away from other people who could get sick from them) and will receive the best medical care possible. Isolation prevents the virus from spreading to others.
Anyone who has had contact with a smallpox patient will be offered the smallpox vaccination as soon as possible. Then, the people who have had contact with those individuals will also be vaccinated. Following vaccination, these people will need to watch for any signs of smallpox. People who have been exposed to smallpox may be asked to take their temperatures regularly and report the results to their health department.
The smallpox vaccine may also be offered to those who have not been exposed, but would like to be vaccinated. At local clinics, the risks and benefits of the vaccine will be explained, and professionals will be available to answer questions.
No one will be forced to be vaccinated, even if an individual has been exposed to smallpox. To prevent smallpox from spreading, anyone who has been in contact with a person with smallpox but who decides not to get the vaccine may need to be isolated for at least 18 days. During this time, they will be checked for symptoms of smallpox.
People placed in isolation will not be able to go to work. Steps will be taken to care for their everyday needs (food, etc.).

Smallpox Disease

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