Health Minister: No singlecase of smallpox in Yemen [Archives:2006/951/Front Page]

June 1 2006

SANA'A, June 1 ) In a statement to the Yemen Times, Health Minister Dr. Abdulkarim Rasae denied reports earlier this week that dozens of local citizens in Bani Matar, a district west of Sana'a, were infected with smallpox.

“Smallpox vanished during the 1970s,” he said, describing such news sources as “irresponsible.” The news was reported by Al-Motamar Net and published in the Yemen Times three days ago. The minister added, “Citizens in Bani Matar were infected by chicken pox, not smallpox.”

Dr. Hashim A. El-Zein, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Yemen, said that according to a Ministry of Health report, there are 95 chicken pox cases in Bani Matar. He added, “Thirty-three cases are considered mild, whereas 24 are moderate, eight are severe and 30 have been treated, according to the ministry report.”

Dr. Abdul Hakim Al-Kuhlani, General Manager of the Health Ministry's Epidemic Surveillance, confirmed that Yemen has been free of smallpox since 1979. However, he admitted that there is a chicken pox outbreak in Bani Matar.

“We sent a team consisting of a doctor, four nurses and an epidemic surveillance officer to the region once we received reports mentioning the possibility of chicken pox cases. The next day, a team of three male nurses and one female nurse provided additional medications to the region,” he noted.

Al-Kuhlani said chicken pox can be found in developing countries, including Yemen. “Some viruses become active during summer and the virus that causes chicken pox is one of them,” he explained.

Smallpox vs. chicken pox

Regarding smallpox, El-Zein pointed out that the disease was eradicated following a successful worldwide vaccination program, with the last case reported in 1977 in Somalia. After the disease was eliminated worldwide in 1979, WHO declared that smallpox had been wiped out. For that reason, routine vaccination against smallpox among the general public was stopped, as it no longer was necessary for prevention. However, laboratories saved some of the variola virus that causes smallpox for research purposes.

Smallpox is a contagious, serious – sometimes fatal – infectious disease. Exposure to the smallpox virus is followed by an incubation period, during which individuals have no symptoms and may feel fine. The incubation period averages approximately 12 to 14 days, but can range from seven to 17 days. People are not contagious during this time.

As for chicken pox, scientific studies mention that the disease is a rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Once an individual is exposed to the virus, it takes between two and three weeks before symptoms appear.

Chicken pox is very common, highly contagious and usually occurs during childhood, with more than 90 percent of cases occurring in children under age 12. Adults who contract chicken pox usually are more ill, especially with pneumonia.

Smallpox can be spread by direct contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated materials like bedding or clothing. Smallpox rarely is spread via airborne viruses in enclosed settings like buildings or buses, whereas chicken pox is transmitted by air when an infected individual coughs or sneezes.

Medical studies show that the easiest way to prevent catching chicken pox is to get vaccinated; however, vaccination is successful in only 70 to 90 percent of all instances. Individuals who've been vaccinated but still acquire chicken pox usually have a milder form of the disease that heals more quickly than non-vaccinated individuals.

Ordinary people may not distinguish the differences between the two diseases, as symptoms sometimes are similar. Symptoms like mild fever, backache, headache, sore throat, a rash (red spots) and blisters filled with fluid can be found in both smallpox and chicken pox patients.