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December 6, 1985

Night of the Living Dead: Could the Mummy Strike Again?

Author Affiliations

University of Connecticut Health Center Farmington

JAMA. 1985;254(21):3038. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360210052027

To the Editor.—  Recently a debate has emerged regarding criteria for vaccination of archaeologists, anthropologists, and related field workers who may be exposed to material containing smallpox virus.1,2 Such criteria should take into account the immediate health of the people being vaccinated as well as the public health risk of the population at large. Historical experience with the American Indian has shown how devastating smallpox can be in an antigenically naive population. More than 3 million people died in a single epidemic when Hernando Cortes and his conquistadores introduced smallpox to the New World.3 The present-day situation is different in that many individuals were vaccinated in the 1960s and 1970s and vaccines continue to be available. However, most young people have never been exposed to the smallpox antigen, and vaccine stockpiles are limited in size. Even more limited is our knowledge of the viability of variola in nonliving