Soldier contracts smallpox sister virus after tattooing his vaccine site

A soldier who had his tattoo touched-up over his smallpox vaccination four days after he was immunized suffered from scattered bumps, which evolved into lesions and were accompanied by a fever, aches and a suspected secondary infection, according to a case study published in February in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Military Medicine.

The tattoo made his skin tissue inflamed and immuno-compromised, allowing the smallpox sister virus he was immunized with to erupt in that tissue. This reaction is the reason why medical personnel don’t give vaccines over inflamed tissues, and illustrates the risks of poorly adhering to post-vaccination care, the case study’s authors said.

The individual’s name was withheld, but the infection occurred in a 21-year-old male soldier. He received the smallpox vaccination as part of a brigade-wide vaccination for soldiers arriving late for a nine-month rotation to South Korea.

There have only been 13 cases of tattoo and smallpox inoculation complications reported in the national Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System database over the past 15 years. In this case, the soldier’s leadership reported that he had not been wearing a bandage over his inoculation site as instructed and had been scratching it frequently.

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Author: Dian Welle