FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 19, 2004) The Kentucky Public Health Laboratory has found no evidence of a public health threat after testing samples from a Laurel County hospital, where precautions were taken after a patient presented with a rash that raised concerns about the possibility of smallpox.
“Over the past several years, state and local agencies in Kentucky have worked hand in hand with each other and with federal agencies to build the capacity to respond to an act of terrorism or other public health emergency,” said Dr. Rice Leach, Commissioner of the Department for Public Health (DPH). “Those plans and that cooperation have served us well in responding to this potential health threat today. Our lab was able to rule out a public health threat through testing.”
The state lab performed two rapid tests that took approximately three hours to complete on the samples: a direct florescence antibody screening on skin scraping for varicella, the virus that causes chicken pox, and an IgG varicella antibody testing on a serum or blood sample. Using federal preparedness funds, the state lab has upgraded facilities and security to be able to perform testing for various agents that could cause a serious public health threat. No further information will be released on test results to protect patient confidentiality.
Smallpox was eradicated after a successful worldwide vaccination program. The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949. The last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977. Smallpox is caused by the variola virus, which only exists in laboratory stockpiles.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001, there is heightened concern that smallpox might be used as an agent of bioterrorism. For this reason, the U.S. government, DPH and other agencies are taking precautions for dealing with a smallpox outbreak. Smallpox can be prevented through use of the smallpox vaccine.
“Our state lab has ruled out a public health threat in this case, but we will keep working every day toward even better preparedness and to protect the health of Kentuckians,” Dr. Leach said.