Father's smallpox jab puts son in hospital

A rare reaction

A two-year old boy is in hospital today having become critically ill after his father received a smallpox vaccination.

According to reports, the boy's father is a US soldier, who was was due to deploy to Iraq, but was unexpectedly kept home after having his vaccination. Doctors say the child must have touched the site of the vaccination - a closely related virus is scratched into the surface of the skin - and has developed a potentially fatal response called eczema vaccinatum.

Although the disease has been eradicated since 1979, the US resumed its vaccination programme in 2002, in response to the fears that someone could use the virus as a biological weapon. Military personnel and around 40,000 civilian health workers have been given the jab.

This is the first case of eczema vaccinatum since then, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

CDC pox virus expert Dr. Inger Damon told Reuters that the two-year old had been treated with immune globulin, cidofovir (an antiviral) and SIGA-246, (an experimental antiviral). She said the CDC was "cautiously optimistic" about the child's progress.

The smallpox vaccine is notorious for its very serious side effects, but the CDC says that the screening process is much better now. Anyone at a high risk of a dangerous response - such as the eczema vaccinatum - is not given the jab. This has helped keep bad reactions to a minimum.

Eczema vaccinatum has a mortality rate of around 18 per cent, the CDC says, as compared to around 30 per cent for the smallpox virus itself. ®

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