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Last Updated

05 Jan 2003

Source: Newsday, January 4, 2003

Duke among hospitals conducting smallpox vaccine study

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University Medical Center researchers are preparing to take part in a national study of whether diluted smallpox vaccine can boost immunity in people vaccinated more than 20 years ago.

The trial's outcome is expected to help guide national policy for distributing smallpox vaccine if the virus is ever used in an attack on Americans.

Duke physician Emmanuel "Chip" Walter, leader of the study, said he hopes to recruit about 90 volunteers between 32 and 70 who have been vaccinated against smallpox.

"We're excited about this project," Walter said. "It's a great opportunity for Duke and residents of the Durham area to contribute to the development of national public health policy."

Duke is one of several centers chosen by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to conduct the trials, said Walter, associate director of the Primary Care Research Consortium of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

If the country's supply of smallpox vaccine can be diluted without losing its effectiveness, it could be made available to more people.

The vaccine that will be used in the study is a powder made by the pharmaceutical firm Wyeth, which produced about 15 million doses stored in Atlanta by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Walter said.

Smallpox is considered one of the most lethal potential biological weapons that could be used in a terrorist attack. It's a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease with no known treatment or cure. It causes fever, malaise and disfiguring rash, killing about a third of its victims.

Smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1980, thanks to aggressive vaccination programs.

Routine smallpox vaccination ended in the United States in 1971, but samples of the virus are still stored in research laboratories around the world.

The University of Rochester, the University of California at Los Angeles, Northern California Kaiser-Permanente, the University of Maryland, St. Louis University and Stanford University are also participating in the study.