CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- Their guard is up. They are equipped with defenses against malaria, anthrax and yellow fever. Now service members here in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa are being protected against smallpox.
Airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors have been inoculated at both Camp Lemonier and aboard USS Mount Whitney, the CJTF-HOA command element's flagship.
According the Army's Smallpox Vaccination Program Web site, www.smallpox.army.mil, historically, three out of every 10 people infected with smallpox died. This means, theoretically, if every Marine was infected with the disease, nearly 54,000 would die.
With the threat of biological warfare on the horizon, precautions are being taken to prevent a catastrophe of this nature from occurring.
Navy Lt. Elizabeth W. Furay said, "If smallpox doesn't kill you, it will disfigure you. The vaccination is given because, the disease could significantly impair our military readiness, and we have the ability to deter that threat."
Furay, a St. Louis, Mo., native, is an emergency medicine nurse with the Navy emergency medical surgical team here.
Smallpox symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, backache, severe abdominal pain, disorientation and small, round sores all over the skin.
The vaccine, given to service members since World War I, contains live vaccinia viruses, another "pox-type" virus related to smallpox, which cannot cause smallpox. Once administered, it evokes an immune response that protects against variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. The American public was routinely given the same vaccine until 1972 when smallpox was eradicated from the United States.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Scott Quinn, a religious program specialist who hails from Hoopeston, Ill. said he was comforted by the briefing he and the other service members received from Navy medical personnel prior to receiving the vaccination.
Quinn is a 14-year Navy veteran and fancies himself a connoisseur of inoculations. Over the years, he estimates he's received 20 or more different vaccines.
"I don't really mind getting vaccines anymore. I was pretty indifferent about the smallpox vaccine," he said. "I just like to know what could happen and what the immediate reaction might be."
During the briefing, preventive measures to avoid a secondary infection caused by the vaccine were stressed. Troops were warned not to wear contact lenses or share clothing and towels during the vaccination cycle.
For most people, the vaccination site becomes itchy. Scratching the site might spread the virus to another part of the body.
Furay said, "People need to be aware of what they are doing. If they're not, they might infect themselves. The biggest way they can protect themselves is by using good hand-washing techniques."