A woman in San Diego was infected with a smallpox-related virus earlier this year after she accidentally poked herself in the finger with a needle, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which was published on Friday, stated that the lab worker turned down the offer to get the smallpox vaccine when she started her job.
The needle she was working with contained vaccinia virus (VACV), which is an orthopoxvirus used in smallpox vaccines, as a vector for cancer treatments, and for experimental vaccine research, according to the report. The worker pierced her skin when trying to inject it into a mouse.
Her finger swelled within 10 days and by day 12, she was treated for a fever, swollen lymph nodes, pain, malaise, and increasing infection in her finger at a university-based emergency department, CDC reported.
The 26-year-old was given antibiotics and tecovirimat, which is a virus inhibitor, to treat her symptoms.
Still, her finger turned black and started to rot. The report says that it took three months for the infection to subside.
“Although the patient had declined vaccination when it was initially offered, during this investigation she reported that she did not appreciate the extent of infection that could occur with VACV when vaccination was first offered,” the authors wrote in the report.
Smallpox is the only human disease ever to be eradicated, in large part thanks to coordinated global immunization efforts. It is a feat the world is attempting to duplicate with polio, which is 99.9% eradicated around the world.
The woman with the infection was off work for four months to keep the infection contained, according to the report.
While this case was isolated and a unique sort of accident, it speaks to the importance of vaccines in a larger context as it shows how quickly an infection can occur. That is why vaccinations play such a vital role in securing global health — if a disease is a threat to one person, it can be a threat to all people.