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Vaccination a big weapon in the war on terrorism

by Airman 1st class Andrea Thacker
Thunderbolt editor

The war on terrorism conjures images of high-tech weaponry and super-secret surveillance techniques, but it may be that a few tiny pricks of a needle turn out to be one of the most effective measures servicemembers take in the war on terror.

"As we continue the global war on terrorism, new threats require new measures of force protection," said Lt. Col. Marc Goldhagen, Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander. "The smallpox vaccine is another form of antiterrorism measures."

Thursday, MacDill's hospital started vaccinating servicemembers, who may come into contact with the virus while deployed to the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

Vaccinia vaccine, also known as smallpox vaccine is highly effective in producing immunity to smallpox. Because of the low risk of smallpox, the routine use of vaccinia vaccine in the United States was discontinued in 1971. The military discontinued the routine vaccinations of troops in 1984. The use of the vaccine led to the global eradication of smallpox in 1977.

Because smallpox is contagious, deadly and would disrupt mission readiness and capability, President Bush has ordered vaccination mandatory for military members.

The benefits of receiving the vaccination will allow the body to build up immunity to vaccinia, which will help protect recipients against infection resulting from exposure to vaccinia or other orthopox viruses like smallpox.

Although the Public Health Service recommends one should be revaccinated every 10 years, the military has not yet determined how often servicemembers will be revaccinated.

With every vaccination there are risks involved, and smallpox is no exception.

"Vaccinia is a live virus and, like the common cold, the symptoms may vary from person to person," said Goldhagen.

"They could range from no serious symptoms to laying flat on your back feeling completely ill."

Persons receiving their first dose of vaccine might experience symptoms associated with tenderness, redness, swelling and a lesion at the vaccination site, and may cause fever for a few days. These symptoms are more common in persons receiving their first dose of vaccine than in persons being revaccinated.

The overall risks of serious complications of vaccinia vaccination are low. Other less- serious complications include inadvertent transfer of vaccinia from the vaccination site to other parts of the body. This inadvertent transfer can be prevented by hand-washing after touching the vaccination site.

Because the vaccinia virus is present at the vaccination area, other persons can become infected if they come in direct contact with the lesions. Those vaccinated can transfer the virus by touching the lesion and then touching someone.

Servicemembers receiving the virus are briefed on the reasons for the vaccine and the potential side effects. The 6th Medical Group will issue bandages and bags for proper care and disposal. Those vaccinated will receive a diary to record the way the vaccinated site looks and feels.

Because of the risks and potential hazards, each servicemember will fill out a questionnaire, which will let medical personnel know which persons are considered at special risk of smallpox vaccine complications.

"The best way to ensure the airmen are protected and they can continue mission requirements is to vaccinate them before an attack," said Goldhagen. "The questionnaires are required to ensure the safety of our troops. We are doing everything we can to be cautious. We don't want to invite any unnecessary stress or complications."

Persons with certain conditions are more likely to develop severe complications and should not be vaccinated.

These complications include:

1. Persons who have ever been diagnosed as having eczema, even if the condition is mild or not currently active.

2. Persons whose household contacts have eczema or a history of eczema.

3. Persons with diseases or conditions that cause immunodeficiency, such as leukemia, lymphoma, generalized malignancy, agammaglobulinemia or therapy with alkylating agents, antimetabolites, radiation or large doses of corticosteroids.

4. Persons whose household contacts have an immunodeficiency disease or the therapy listed above.

5. Persons with other acute or chronic skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, burns, impetigo or varicella zoster (shingles) should not be vaccinated until the condition resolves.

6. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant within a month following vaccination.

7. Persons with serious, life-threatening allergies to the antibiotics polymyxin B, streptomycin, tetracycline or neomycin.

The main objectives in caring for a smallpox vaccination site are to avoid spreading the virus from the vaccination site to another area of the body, to avoid spreading to another person and to keep the area clean and dry. Keep the site covered with a bandage, such as a Band-Aid, at all times until the scab has fallen off and the underlying skin is healed. Allowing the infected area time to breathe will help quicken the healing process so an airtight cover should not be used.

Keep the site dry. When showering, cover the site with plastic and rubber bands, or tape the plastic down with adhesive tape to prevent wetting. Do not direct shower water to the vaccinated area. After drying off, replace the occlusive plastic cover with a simple bandage.

After changing the bandage, or any time the vaccination site is touched, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This is the most important measure to prevent transmission of vaccinia to another person or another part of the body.

Avoid contact with anyone at risk of complications of smallpox vaccination listed above until the scab has fallen off. Once the scab is gone, there is no threat of spreading the virus.

For more information about the vaccinia vaccine, visit www.smallpox.army.mil.

Remember one suspected case of smallpox is considered a public health emergency. Vaccines are important tools that help protect the men and women serving our nation.

 

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