State health officials have drafted a plan to minimize the impact of a smallpox outbreak, should it be used as a weapon by terrorists.
On orders from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the Nevada State Health Division submitted the draft plan on time Nov. 27, and is now awaiting input from the federal agency to make additions and finalize it.
"This has been a very fast process," said Martha Framsted, spokeswoman for the state health division. "There's still work to be done, but we're moving along."
The Smallpox Preparedness and Response Plan specifically addresses how the state would respond and protect residents after a bioterrorism attack that would release a disease.
"It's basically an outlining for the first stage of the plan," Framsted said. The plan is part of a Public Health and Hospital Preparedness and Response for Bioterrorism plan released this year.
The state health division received $10.4 million this year to pay for state bioterrorism-preparedness activities, such as surveillance systems, Web-based communication systems, and hiring coordinators and a state homeland security adviser.
Part of the money was spent to upgrade the lab at the University of Nevada, Reno, so technicians would be able to quickly analyze biological agents such as anthrax and smallpox. A similar lab is being constructed in Las Vegas and expected to open next summer.
"When we need to have an answer quickly, they can do that for us," Framsted said.
Smallpox was declared globally eradicated in 1980. Bioterrorism scares following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks spurred national efforts to protect Americans against an intentional release of disease.
The CDC reports an expected 286 million doses of smallpox vaccine were expected to be available by the end of 2001.
The state has received a recommendation from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for vaccinating health care professionals and public safety crews.
The state plans to begin "orderly and discreet vaccinations to certain groups" next year, said Bob Salcido, Nevada immunization program manager, last month. He was unaware when the state would receive the vaccines from CDC.
At that time, he reported the state did not have anyone trained to use the specialized needle for vaccinations. No information was available Tuesday on whether that has changed.
According to the CDC, smallpox is a serious, contagious and sometimes fatal infectious disease. There is no specific treatment for it, and the only prevention is vaccination.
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