In May the CDC reported that a two-year-old boy developed a serious reaction to his father’s smallpox vaccination after playing with him (his father is a soldier who was vaccinated for deployment to Iraq). Thankfully, the boy recovered but disease detectives found the highly infectious virus all over his house. (A good reminder that shedding is real and it’s how the vaccinated can spread disease to the unvaccinated.)

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The WHO declared smallpox eradicated in 1979 but the U.S. government still vaccinates against smallpox for military personnel and selected healthcare workers because of fears the virus could be used in a biological attack.

The little boy developed a rash and later severe illness but after a week of being treated with the antiviral drugs vaccinia immune globulin (by Siga Technologies Inc.) and cidofovir, (made by Gilead Sciences Inc.), he began to get better. His mother also developed a rash but it went away after immune globulin treatment (which is made from the blood of vaccinated people).1

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The CDC reported that this was the first case of eczema vaccinatum in the U.S. since 1988. Although the Indiana toddler was hospitalized for 48 days, doctors don’t expect him to suffer any long-term consequences beyond possible scarring.

Since pox viruses can survive on inanimate objects, experts tested the family’s home and found:

“Multiple swab samples obtained from the home (e.g., from a bathroom washcloth, a slipper, a toy drum, a night stand, a booster seat, and an ointment container) and from items brought to the child’s hospital room (e.g., an infant drinking cup and a car seat) were positive for vaccinia virus DNA.” 2

According to the CDC, the smallpox vaccine uses a related and usually harmless virus called vaccinia. However, people with eczema and immune conditions can develop a serious reaction if they are vaccinated or come into contact with the blisters of a vaccinated person. (Again, shedding. It’s a thing.)

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This case highlights the fact that vaccines cannot be one size fits all. Yes, the smallpox vaccine isn’t part of the current schedule but if the CDC were to change their mind after a safer version of the vaccine was created, which is in the works, we could have many more problems like this on our hands- or worse.

Educate yourself and know your rights so that you can best protect and care for your family.

 

Sources and References

  1. Reuters.
  2. Reuters.