If someone you have close, physical contact with gets the smallpox vaccine, there are some things you should know
The main concern for people who have close, physical contact with someone who has gotten the vaccine is that the vaccinia virus can be spread from the vaccination site, causing rash (mild to severe), fever, and head and body aches. Vaccinia is spread by touching a vaccination site before it has healed or by touching bandages, clothing, or other material that has come in contact with the vaccination site and then touching another part of the body or touching someone else. The vaccination site often becomes itchy, which may lead to scratching, rubbing, or touching the site.
People getting the vaccine will receive instructions for special care to minimize the risk of spreading vaccinia by touch, but you also can take precautions to protect yourself. These measures should be followed until the scab that forms at the vaccination site falls off on its own, 2 to 3 weeks after vaccination.
Do not touch the vaccine site or any materials that might come in contact with the site, such as bandages, towels, clothing, or washcloths used by the person who got the vaccine. If you accidentally come in contact with the vaccine site, or something that may be contaminated with vaccinia virus, immediately wash with soap and warm water. If you share a bed with the vaccinated person, be sure that they are wearing a gauze bandage held in place with first aid tape over the vaccination site. As an extra precaution, the person who got the vaccine can wear a shirt or pajamas that cover the bandaged site. If they do not, you may choose to sleep in a separate bed.
Keep a separate laundry hamper for items like clothing, towels, or bedding that have come in direct contact with the vaccination site or drainage from the site. You can launder these items, using hot water with detergent and/or bleach and you should wash your hands carefully afterwards. Remind the person who got the vaccine to follow their special care and hand washing instructions. If their hand is contaminated and they touch you, they can spread vaccinia to you.
Additional information is available on the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov/smallpox or by calling the CDC at 1-888-246-2675 (Español 888-246-2857)
Additional Smallpox websites:
- New York State Dept of Health
- Center for Disease Control