Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

North Gets Smallpox Terror Unit

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

North Gets Smallpox Terror Unit

Article excerpt

Byline: By James Marley

A unit to treat victims of a terrorist smallpox attack is to be built in the region.

No site has yet been identified for the 40-bed isolation centre which would be used to treat victims of the killer virus.

But health bosses said it will have to be built at least 600 metres away from homes.

About 25 nurses and other specialist staff are currently being trained to work in the centre, which could be set up in the next couple of months.

And health chiefs have also revealed they are now in a position to give vaccines to about 200 people within hours in the event of an outbreak.

Dr John Woodhouse, deputy director of public health in the North East, said plans were in the early stages and would not be finalised until the Department of Health had come up with a definitive plan to deal with a terrorist smallpox attack.

He said: "The threat of a malicious outbreak of smallpox is very low but the potential impact could be terrible as the disease can spread quickly and there are real concerns.

"We have been doing preliminary work to identify a potential site because even though the threat is remote, the public would not forgive us if we were not prepared.

"If there was a case we would act in a similar way as we do if there are cases of meningitis at a school and vaccinate pupils. In the case of smallpox, we would vaccinate whoever the person has come into contact with and the immediate family. The unit will have to be 600 metres away from where people live so this rules out Newcastle General Hospital."

Smallpox is contagious and kills up to 30 per cent of its victims. There is no treatment and the only prevention is vaccination.

The planned centre would cover the whole of the North East and would be paid from Government money.

Other regional centres are planned.

Throughout this month awareness raising sessions are being held for staff at all hospital trusts in the North East.

Dr Woodhouse said: "We do not as yet know if the centre will be permanent, but we want to be in a position where trained staff can be mobilised very quickly."

Smallpox is now officially eradicated after a successful worldwide vaccination programme. The last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977.

In the aftermath of September 11 there have been fears smallpox could be used in a terrorist attack.

The only way it could be spread is through an infected terrorist going among the general public and having face to face contact or exchanging bodily fluids. It would be virtually impossible to spread the disease by releasing it into an enclosed environment such as buildings, buses and trains.

A Department of Health spokesman said there was no need for doctors' surgeries to have the vaccine.

He said: "GPs do not hold stocks of the vaccine. …

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