CDC preparing teams to deal with smallpox threat

Nov 8, 2001 (CIDRAP News) – Teams of specialists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been vaccinated against smallpox and are training to respond to any intentional release of the smallpox virus, the CDC has announced.

"CDC is taking steps to protect the public's health in case of an intentional release of smallpox," the agency said in a Nov 4 press release. "Teams—which include physicians, epidemiologists, laboratorians—have been vaccinated against smallpox and are training at CDC to identify and contain smallpox outbreaks. Each team could be immediately dispatched from CDC to assist local and state health departments if a case of this contagious disease is suspected."

About 140 CDC staff members have been vaccinated as part of the initiative, CDC spokeswoman Mary Kay Sones told CIDRAP News. She said she did not know how many response teams that number represents.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, described the CDC effort as an important part of the nation's defense against bioterrorism. "We must be prepared for the use of smallpox as a bioterrorism weapon," he commented on CBS News's "Face the Nation" TV program Nov 4. "The CDC, what they're doing is classic, appropriate public health: You vaccinate what we call the first responders, the people that are going to have to go out into the field, do the examination, do the isolation, do the quarantine."

CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan, MD, speaking in a telephone press conference Nov 7, said the agency has increased the number of staff members who could participate in responding to any suspected smallpox outbreak. He also said the agency has a smallpox response plan. "We could use it [the plan] today if need be, but we're also trying to continue to improve it with input from state-level health departments, so that it includes the issue of who would be immunized early on in this," he said.

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