U.S. government would halt regional transport in smallpox response

| Wednesday, November 28, 2001

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.
--Keith Goble