Iowans are urged not to be alarmed by last night’s season finale of “E-R.” The episode featured a smallpox outbreak caused by people returning home from a foreign country. Rachel Birks, a public health nurse in Harlan, says the T-V storyline could not happen in real life.Birks says smallpox doesn’t exist naturally anywhere in the world and the only way you can become infected is from a terrorist attack. She says the U-S is preparing for the possibility of just such an attack.Birks says the government is stockpiling vaccines in warehouses across the U-S. If there’s a smallpox outbreak, she says health officials can get vaccines to any place in the country within 24 hours. Health officials stopped giving smallpox vaccine to people in 1972. She says the vaccine is not readily available unless there’s a good reason. Birks says the smallpox vaccine can have dangerous side effects, so they don’t like to give the vaccine to anybody unless there’s a real risk of exposure.
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