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Smallpox Vaccine Risky for Some

People with skin conditions, immune disorders susceptible

FRIDAY, Jan. 28, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- People who have certain skin disorders or weakened immune systems, or are taking high-dose corticosteroids may face increased risk if they get the live-virus smallpox vaccine, says a report in the January issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

The report was prepared by the Joint Task Force on Smallpox Vaccination for Allergists.

"The current smallpox vaccine has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration and had, in the past, been given safely to millions of individuals," report author Dr. Daniel Ein said in a prepared statement.

"In the event of a terrorism attack or exposure, the risk of having serious vaccination complications must be weighed against the risks of experiencing a potentially fatal smallpox infection," he said.

The report said that the smallpox vaccine poses the greatest risk to people with active exfoliative conditions such as eczema or atopic dermatitis or those with a history of such skin disorders. Also at increased risk are people who are immunosuppressed and those who have a serious allergy to any component of the vaccine.

"Patients with atopic dermatitis are at a greater risk of contracting vaccinia infections, and also of spreading the virus, than are persons with healthy skin. Mortality rates among those with atopic dermatitis are likely to be highest in children younger than 5 years," Ein said.

"Since one of the primary immunologic protective mechanisms to the virus is cell-mediated (T-cell) immunity, patients with compromised immune response may be more susceptible to smallpox vaccine complications," he added.

People should not receive the smallpox vaccine if their spouses, children or other people in the household have weakened immune systems, the report said. That's because people who have received the smallpox vaccine can transmit the virus to other people via intimate contact.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about smallpox vaccine.

SOURCE: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, news release, Jan. 25, 2005
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