Research scientists are seeking more information on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of smallpox. Recently, a nationwide research group on smallpox also launched efforts to find ways to reduce the risk of eczema vaccinatum, a severe and potentially deadly complication of smallpox immunization.
Several government agencies support research on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of infections caused by microbes, including those, such as smallpox, that have the potential for use as biological weapons.
Recently, a nationwide smallpox research group was launched. It seeks to reduce the risk of eczema vaccinatum (EV), a severe and potentially deadly complication of smallpox immunization. Eczema vaccinatum occurs almost exclusively in people with a history of atopic dermatitis, a chronic, itchy skin condition commonly referred to as eczema.
While uncommon, eczema vaccinatum can develop when atopic dermatitis patients are given the smallpox vaccine or come into close personal contact with people who recently received the vaccine. If left untreated, eczema vaccinatum can kill between 1 percent and 6 percent of those affected. In children younger than 2 years of age, health experts estimate that eczema vaccinatum can kill up to 30 percent.
Expanding the U.S. smallpox vaccine supply is a high priority of the bioterrorism preparedness plan. Results from a recent research study show that the existing U.S. supply of smallpox vaccine -- 15.4 million doses -- could successfully be diluted up to 5 times and retain its potency, effectively expanding the number of individuals it could protect from the contagious disease. The vaccine, called Dryvax®, had been in storage ever since production stopped in 1983.