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Medications and Drugs

Brand Names: Dryvax

Generic Name: smallpox vaccine (Pronunciation: SMALL pox)

What is smallpox vaccine (Dryvax)?

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infection that is caused by a virus. Smallpox causes fever and a blistering skin rash. These blisters contain virus and can make the infected person highly contagious.

Smallpox is spread from person to person through direct contact, or by coming into contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects such as clothing or bedding. A person with early symptoms of smallpox may or may not be contagious. Once the person forms a smallpox skin rash, the chance of spreading the disease increases until the last smallpox has scab fallen off.

The smallpox vaccine contains live "vaccinia" virus (a virus similar to smallpox). For this reason, the vaccination site (the place on your skin where the vaccine is injected) will be contagious and can spread the virus to other parts of your body or to other people.

The smallpox vaccine is not given as a routine vaccination to children or adults because the dedicated use of smallpox vaccine in the first half of the 20th century has virtually eliminated the disease worldwide. The last case of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949. The last reported case of smallpox worldwide occurred in 1977.

Recent concerns that smallpox virus might be used as a weapon of bioterrorism has led U.S. health officials to take precautions for a smallpox outbreak. The smallpox vaccine is currently recommended for military and civilian personnel who work in high threat areas, and in healthcare and safety workers who may provide first-response care in an outbreak. Smallpox vaccine is also recommended for laboratory workers who may be exposed to the smallpox virus or closely related viruses.

What are the possible side effects of smallpox vaccine (Dryvax)?

You should not receive a booster vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first vaccine. Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving this vaccine. If you ever need to receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous dose caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with smallpox is much more dangerous to your health than receiving the vaccine to protect against it. Like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects, but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor at once if you have any of these serious side effects:

  • chest pain, muscle or joint pain, dry cough, feeling short of breath;
  • flu symptoms, stiff neck or back, vomiting, confusion, memory loss, irritability, loss of balance or coordination;
  • problems with speech or vision, sensitivity to light, muscle weakness or paralysis, seizure (black-out or convulsions);
  • fever, sore throat, and headache with a severe blistering, peeling, and red skin rash;
  • irritation, infection, or skin changes where the needle stick was placed; or
  • outbreak of skin sores or blisters anywhere on your body.

Less serious side effects include headache, low fever, and swollen glands.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

What is the most important information I should know about this vaccine (Dryvax)?

You should not receive smallpox vaccine if you have heart disease or a history of stroke or heart attack, a skin disorder, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, or if you have received cancer chemotherapy or radiation treatment in the past 3 months.

You should also not receive a smallpox vaccine if you or someone in your household has a skin disorder such as eczema (Atopic dermatitis), or a weak immune system caused by disease or by taking certain medicines such as steroids.

Before receiving the vaccine, tell your doctor if you have asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, or an autoimmune disorder such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus. Tell your doctor if you are allergic to latex rubber, if you have recently used a steroid eye drop, or if you have any risk factors for heart disease.

A vaccination sore will appear on your skin within 3 to 4 days after you receive this vaccine. This sore may itch and will gradually form a blister filled with pus. As the blister drains and dries up, a scab will form. After you receive the vaccine and until your scab falls off, your vaccination sore will be "contagious" and could spread the virus to anything or anyone who touches it.

Keep your vaccination sore covered with a gauze bandage to keep from spreading the virus to other people or to other parts of your own body. Change your bandage at least once a day.

Always wash your hands with soap and hot water after touching your sore, changing bandages, or handling clothing or other fabrics that have come into contact with your sore.

Avoid touching the sore and then touching other parts of your body (especially your eyes) until you have washed your hands.

Call your doctor at once if you have chest pain, muscle or joint pain, dry cough, feeling short of breath, flu symptoms, stiff neck or back, vomiting, confusion, memory loss, irritability, loss of balance or coordination, problems with speech or vision, sensitivity to light, muscle weakness or paralysis, seizure (black-out or convulsions), a severe skin rash, irritation, infection, or skin changes, or an outbreak of skin sores or blisters anywhere on your body.

Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving this vaccine. If you ever need to receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous dose caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with smallpox is much more dangerous to your health than receiving the vaccine to protect against it. Like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects, but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.



Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

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