Detection and Response

Smallpox is caused by a virus, which is too tiny to be seen by the eye without a powerful microscope. If a smallpox bioterrorist attack happens, public health authorities would find out once people started getting sick. Most likely, sick individuals will go to their primary care providers or their local emergency rooms. The medical staff would try to rule out other more common illnesses first.

If after ruling out other diseases the medical staff still suspects smallpox, they would contact their local public health authorities and CDC for help to confirm or rule out the disease. CDC laboratories would make the final confirmation of smallpox.

How Would CDC Respond to a Smallpox Emergency?

A single, confirmed case of smallpox would be a public health emergency and CDC would respond immediately. CDC has worked with other federal, state, and local agencies and authorities to plan how each would respond individually and how they would all respond together in a smallpox emergency.

CDC has a detailed plan to protect people if a smallpox emergency were to happen. Smallpox was wiped out through specific and deliberate disease control actions, like vaccination. In an emergency, CDC will take these actions again.

Some of the things CDC would do in an emergency:

  • Coordinate activities within CDC and with other partners through the Emergency Operations Center.
  • Communicate with the public to let them know where to go for care or how to protect themselves from getting sick.
  • Guide health care providers, hospitals, health departments, and others on how to respond.
  • Work with the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) to test samples from sick people.
  • Send out field staff to talk to people who are sick with smallpox and those who were in close contact with them.
  • Ship out vaccines and other supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to states and other locations where needed.