Fresno County health officials were alerted of a hospital worker experiencing arrhythmia after receiving a smallpox inoculation and notified the state Tuesday about the worker’s symptoms.
The hospital employee is the first in Fresno County to report heart problems after receiving the smallpox vaccine, officials said.
Last week, the state ordered counties to suspend smallpox inoculations until at least April 7 to give the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention time to determine whether an association exists between the smallpox vaccine and heart problems.
Since the vaccinations began nationwide, three people have had heart attacks. Two of those resulted in death. The CDC also is investigating several cardiac problems associated with the vaccine.
According to the CDC, monitoring of smallpox vaccinations over the past few months shows the vaccine may cause heart inflammation. Experts are looking more closely at the link because it is not clear whether the vaccine causes chest pain and heart attack in some people.
Fresno County Interim Health Officer Kenneth Bird said the health-care worker received the smallpox vaccine 18 days ago. He complained of a change in his heartbeat to his hospital employer who reported the arrhythmia Tuesday.
The worker is not hospitalized and “is doing well right now,” Bird said.
Bird said it’s unknown who discovered the health worker’s arrhythmia: “But I assume he was having something that he noticed that took him to his doctor.”
Hospitals are required to notify the county when a worker shows an adverse reaction after vaccination. The county forwards the information to the state, which in turn contacts the CDC.
Until Tuesday’s notification, no adverse health reactions to the vaccine had been reported in Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties.
“In our department, we haven’t had anybody miss any days of work,” said Cathy Drusen, Fresno County’s division manager of public health nursing.
The vaccine consists of a live virus that can cause death in one vaccination per million and serious illness, including encephalitis, in as many as 40 per million vaccinations. Smallpox, a highly contagious disease that killed up to 30% of those it infected, was eradicated in the 1970s. Routine vaccinations stopped in 1972.
Several San Joaquin Valley hospitals, including Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno and hospitals in Selma and Coalinga, opted not to participate in the volunteer program because of liability and other unresolved issues.
Thus far, Madera County vaccinated 10 county health-care workers and Tulare gave the vaccine to five public health workers.
Fresno County officials originally estimated 1,000 workers would volunteer for vaccination, but totals have fallen far short of that.
Fresno County said Tuesday that about 80 health-care workers have received the vaccine since February. Only 25 hospital workers in Fresno County remain to be vaccinated. The county had completed about 80% to 85% of smallpox inoculations before the state suspended the vaccination program Friday, Drusen said.
Drusen said those waiting to receive vaccinations won’t get them until the state tells the health department to continue.