Smallpox and Live-Virus Vaccination in Transplant Recipients



Recent bioterrorism raises the specter of reemergence of smallpox as a clinical entity. The mortality of variola major infection (‘typical smallpox’) was approximately 30% in past outbreaks. Programs for smallpox immunization for healthcare workers have been proposed. Atypical forms of smallpox presenting with flat or hemorrhagic skin lesions are most common in individuals with immune deficits with historic mortality approaching 100%. Smallpox vaccination, even after exposure, is highly effective. Smallpox vaccine contains a highly immunogenic live virus, vaccinia. Few data exist for the impact of variola or safety of vaccinia in immunocompromised hosts. Both disseminated infection by vaccinia and person-to-person spread after vaccination are uncommon. When it occurs, secondary vaccinia has usually affected individuals with pre-existing skin conditions (atopic dermatitis or eczema) or with other underlying immune deficits. Historically, disseminated vaccinia infection was uncommon but often fatal even in the absence of the most severe form of disease, “progressive vaccinia”. Some responded to vaccinia immune globulin. Smallpox exposure would be likely to cause significant mortality among immunocompromised hosts. In the absence of documented smallpox exposures, immunocompromised hosts should not be vaccinated against smallpox. Planning for bioterrorist events must include consideration of uniquely susceptible hosts.