- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

Lessons learned from the anthrax attacks last fall are helping health care and counterterrorism experts prepare for a smallpox attack.
"We realized, in any bioterrorism event, that we will need the support of the community, doctors and volunteers.," Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, assistant health director for the Fairfax County Health Department, said yesterday during a bioterrorism preparedness forum at the Washington Hospital Center.
"Since January, we have been working with the hospital and community physicians in our planning efforts," she said.
About 20 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals from around the region attended a four-hour bioterrorism forum yesterday, led by Dr. Daniel R. Lucey, director of the Center for Biologic Counterterrorrism and Emerging Diseases at the Washington Hospital Center.
The health care experts discussed a variety of issues, including how to combat such biological agents as anthrax being used as weapons particularly smallpox. The United States stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, and the disease was declared eradicated worldwide in 1978.
"It's been a quarter-century since anybody had smallpox," Dr. Lucey said before the forum started. "Why bring back the vaccine? People under 30 haven't been vaccinated since smallpox was eradicated. For those over 30 years old, we can't assume that the vaccine [that they received] will still protect them if the virus is reintroduced" to the public.
The specter of an outbreak of smallpox has loomed large since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the anthrax-letter attacks of last October.
Five persons died of inhalation anthrax, caused by anthrax spores concealed in letters mailed to news media outlets and congressional offices. The District's central mail-processing facility on Brentwood Road Northeast, which sorted two of the anthrax-tainted letters, has been closed since last October because of the anthrax contamination.
Dr. Lucey said yesterday that the White House will soon make an announcement on whether to start voluntary smallpox vaccinations in the United States.
Smallpox can spread person-to-person when people talk to one another across a distance of less than 7 feet.
"The other way the virus is spread is through physical contact contact with clothing or linen. The virus can attach itself to things," Dr. Lucey said.
However, the vaccine can cause serious health problems, even death, for some people. Dr. Lucy advised that people who have pre-existing medical conditions, such as eczema, should not get the vaccine. Pregnant women and people with weak immune systems or who take steroids should also not be vaccinated.
"In order for the vaccine to be effective, people must get vaccinated within three to five days of exposure," Dr. Addo-Ayensu said.
"We're working to determine how we can quickly and efficiently vaccinate the entire Fairfax County community," she said.

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