If terrorists unleash
the smallpox virus on the United States, health authorities could impose drastic
measures to halt its spread, including shutting down regional transport, according
to a draft federal plan released Monday. The plan, by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, was prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and
the anthrax scare that followed.
The CDC has called for
increased awareness by doctors, health officials and the public to be able
to detect any outbreak of smallpox - and respond quickly enough to stop it
before a plague could sweep the nation. The heart of the plan is the classic
"ring vaccination" strategy used to eradicate smallpox a generation
ago. That strategy depends on quickly spotting a case of smallpox, isolating
the initial patients, and identifying and vaccinating others who might have
become infected. Local officials would try to locate people thought to have
been exposed at an airport, train station, truckstop, or sports stadium.
If locating them proves
impossible, health officials would be forced to consider a broader vaccination
program, such as inoculating a large group - even a whole city. If early control
efforts fail or an initial outbreak is sufficiently large, still more aggressive
measures might be necessary, the plan says, such as quarantining entire cities,
banning public events, restricting travel and other measures. A single case
of smallpox would be an international health emergency of the highest order,
the plan says. Clearly, the plans indicates, if an attack occurred, avoiding
mass panic would be a challenge.