Questions & Answers
Smallpox - Smallpox in the Environment
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Testing the Environment

  1. Do tests exist to show if smallpox is in the environment, like tests for anthrax spores?
    There are various methods that can be utilized for detecting bioterrorist agents, including smallpox. These include surface and air sample gathering techniques, followed by identification methods such as culture growth or polymerase chain reaction (PCR). However, smallpox virus is relatively fragile, would not persist for long in the environment, and therefore sampling and analysis would not be considered necessary. In the event of a bioterrorist attack involving smallpox, local, state, and federal responders would determine the need for sampling based on the specific circumstances associated with the release.

Decontamination of a Contaminated Environment

  1. If smallpox is discovered or released in a building, or if a person develops symptoms in a building, how can that area be decontaminated?

    The smallpox virus is fragile. In laboratory experiments, 90% of aerosolized (vaccinia virus [a model for smallpox virus]) dies within 24 hours; in the presence of ultraviolet (UV) light, this percentage would be even greater. If an aerosol release of smallpox occurs, 90% of virus matter will be inactivated or dissipated in about 24 hours.

    Standard hospital-grade disinfectants such as quaternary-ammonia compounds are effective in killing the virus. They should be used on surfaces to disinfect hospitalized patients rooms or other contaminated surfaces. Although less desirable because it can damage equipment and furniture, hypochlorite (bleach) is an acceptable alternative. In the hospital setting, patients linens should be autoclaved or washed in hot water with bleach added. Infectious waste should be placed in biohazard bags and autoclaved before incineration.

  2. What should people do if they suspect a person has smallpox or suspect that smallpox has been released in their area?
    On military installations, report suspected cases of smallpox or suspected intentional release of smallpox to your local hospital or clinic. In civilian communities, report suspected cases of smallpox or suspected intentional release of smallpox to your local health department. The hospital, clinic, or local health department will evaluate the situation and make needed reports to higher headquarters, the CDC, and the state health department. Report suspicious activities to law-enforcement personnel.

How to Detect Smallpox Around You

  1. How can we stop the spread of smallpox after someone comes down with it?

    The most important steps to stop a smallpox epidemic are isolation of smallpox cases, tracing of the contacts of these cases, and vaccination.

    Patients showing signs of smallpox infection are capable of spreading the virus. Patients should be placed in medical isolation, so that they will not continue to spread the virus. In addition, people who have come into close contact with smallpox patients should be vaccinated immediately and closely watched for symptoms of smallpox. Vaccination and isolation are the key strategies for stopping a smallpox outbreak from spreading.