Guarding against small pox -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Guarding against small pox

September 24, 2002

Albany-- If bio terrorists released the small pox virus in Georgia, could health departments and hospitals act quickly enough to head off an epidemic? The federal government is now advising state health directors on how to handle a small pox attack.

With the possibility of a huge number of deaths in a small pox biological attack, the Centers for Disease Control is warning state health directors to "plan for vaccinating mortuary personnel and their families."

This comes as no surprise to David Stern of Kimbrell Stern funeral home in Albany, who says there is always concern about infectious disease. "We are also concerned about that microorganism what happens after the death of the host to us, as funeral service personnel, that's very important how fragile is the microorganism."

Dr. Craig Smith, director of infectious disease at Phoebe Putney Hospital, says funeral home workers will play an important part in containing a small pox outbreak. Smith, who's work for the Infectious Disease Society of America was incorporated into this new plan, says small pox, in its natural form, is not that contagious. "Each case spreads to about 2 to 3 people, but if its been altered by a biological weapons person so its more contagious, that might change."

This new plan addresses how state's can handle a widespread outbreak of small pox. Smith says if an attack were to happen tomorrow, there would be enough vaccination for every single American. "That's not the problem, we have enough vaccine, what we do not have is the infrastructure to accomplish vaccinating everyone in rapid sequence."

But the hope is, under these federal guidelines, state's will be able to develop a vaccination plan in case of a small pox attack. Dr. Smith says to vaccinate one million people in ten days, it would take 20 clinics and nearly 4,700 health care providers and volunteers to administer the doses.

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