The only way to prevent smallpox is the smallpox vaccine. Vaccination within three to seven days after exposure to smallpox may prevent the disease in rare cases, but usually limits its symptoms, and is thought to reduce mortality.
There is no treatment for smallpox. Vaccination is the only way to prevent it.
The disease has been eradicated by the intensified plan launched by WHO, to eradicate smallpox in 1967 with the help of a global immunization campaign. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was reported in 1977, and in 1980 the WHO announced that naturally occurring smallpox had been eradicated globally.
After 1980, smallpox vaccinations have been discontinued for the general population worldwide. Currently some military personnel and some health care workers are vaccinated. As the smallpox vaccine can have side-effects, it is important to know who should not receive the vaccination.
- General public is not vaccinated owing to the risk of severe and sometimes fatal reactions.
- People with certain skin conditions such as eczema, a history of eczema or other chronic skin conditions. Person living with someone with eczema, a history of eczema or skin conditions such as impetigo should not be vaccinated as well.
- Pregnant women. The vaccine does not cause birth defects, but it can infect the foetus, leading to stillbirth or death soon after delivery in rare cases.
- People with impaired immunity due to disease (such as cancer, people with organ transplants, HIV/AIDS) or medication should not be vaccinated.
- Person allergic to any of the component of the vaccine (antibiotics polymyxin B sulfate, streptomycin sulfate, chlortetracycline hydrochloride and neomycin sulfate) should not be vaccinated.
- Person with underlying heart diseases or three or more known risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking) should not be vaccinated.
If there is a case of smallpox, the patient should be physically isolated to prevent the spread of smallpox and everyone who has or will come into close contact should be vaccinated. Experiences from the eradication campaign show that physical isolation is essential to break the chain of transmission.
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