Doctors need to be able to recognise smallpox

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Even though smallpox has been eradicated, it is important that doctors have the ability to recognise the disease and distinguish it from other illnesses, in case it is reintroduced, state the authors of a Seminar in this week's issue of The Lancet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated in 1980. However, concern over the potential use of the virus by terrorists or in biowarfare has led to a striking growth in research related to this much-feared disease, write Zack Moore (Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA) and colleagues in their Seminar. "The events of Sept 11, 2001, and subsequent anthrax attacks in the USA heightened concerns about smallpox throughout the world," states Dr Moore.

"National and international public-health agencies have drawn up plans to help with the early detection of and response to a smallpox outbreak, should the disease be reintroduced. However, these plans rely on physicians' ability to recognise the clinical features of smallpox and to distinguish it from other illnesses," he adds.

Many rash illnesses could be confused with smallpox; understanding the clinical differences between smallpox and chickenpox, for example, is important for all physicians, state the authors. The Seminar reviews the essential microbiological, clinical and epidemiological features of smallpox and provides guidance about the diagnosis and differentiation of the disease from other illnesses.

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Contact: Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine, 2015 Uppergate Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA. T) 404-727-5642 zack_moore@oz.ped.emory.edu


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