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Getting Tulsa area medical personnel ready for possible smallpox dangers

The last case of smallpox in the US was back in 1949. Worldwide, the deadly disease has been eradicated since 1977. But the prospect of an outbreak, intentionally set by terrorists, is all too real.

News on Six medical reporter Tami Marler shows us what's being done in Tulsa to protect the public. Janice Sheehan speaks from experience when she trains area first-responders on giving smallpox vaccines. The Tulsa City-County Health Department is enlisting fifteen doctors, fifteen nurses and fifteen support staff from every major hospital to volunteer for the first round of shots, which could start in as little as a week. "You're really lucky if you do this now, because we've got the time to really watch you well."

Smallpox was eradicated in the US in the 1940s, the 1970s worldwide, that's when routine vaccinations ended. Now health experts fear the Centers for Disease Control is not the only place with access to the deadly virus. "It hasn't been epidemic in many decades, but it is there, and the potential for it to be used as a bioterrorism agent is very prevalent."

“I'm one of the people volunteering on the response team, infection control and employee health nurse." RN Lidia Snyder is on Southcrest Hospital's front line in the case of a smallpox outbreak.

She and other volunteers understand they could have adverse reactions to the vaccine, but they're helping in the federal government's effort to keep hospitals running in the face of a bioterrorism attack. Once they learn about the complex procedure of giving the vaccine, they'll be in a position to help prevent a highly infectious disease.

Dr Stan Stacy in the Southcrest Emergency Room, "It's very easily spread, and there's about a 30% mortality rate, so that's pretty high, for any kind of disease, that 30 percent that catch it will die. So it's something that we thought we got rid of in the world, but unfortunately, it may crop up its ugly head again."

Medical first responders only hope they're ahead of the curve. The smallpox vaccine can cause rash, fever, head and body aches. In some people, complications are severe. The CDC says one or two people in a million may die as a result of the vaccine.

Hospital staff who volunteers for the shots will do it in stages, so not everyone will take it at once.
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