Intended for healthcare professionals


Interim smallpox guidelines for the United Kingdom

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 14 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1371

Developing new policies from old evidence

  1. Richard Harling, specialist registrar,
  2. Dilys Morgan, consultant epidemiologist,
  3. W John Edmunds, mathematical modeller,
  4. Helen Campbell, principal scientist
  1. Public Health Laboratory Service Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, London NW9 5DF

Last week, the Department of Health in London published interim guidelines for responding to a deliberate release of smallpox in the United Kingdom. 1 2 The guidelines describe contingency plans for diagnosis and management of the first cases, vaccination strategies before and in the event of an outbreak, and other essential measures to ensure outbreak preparedness and control. Two of us (RH and DM) have contributed to the development of the guidelines, and the aim of this editorial is to give a brief summary and highlight some of the underlying evidence. (Comments on the guidelines may be sent to before the end of this year.)

Developing policies to combat an eradicated infectious disease is difficult for two reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to balance the benefits and risks of interventions against the potential risk from disease. No one knows whether variola virus exists outside the two laboratories approved by the World Health Organization, whether it has fallen into the hands of organisations or individuals with the will and ability to use it as a weapon, or whether it can actually be disseminated in a way that would cause mass casualties. Secondly, the underlying evidence relies on historical data, which were collected in a different, now outdated context and are often incomplete. Nevertheless, analysis of historical data has provided valuable insights into the disease and …

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