Smallpox vaccination and myopericarditis: A clinical review

Dimitri C. Cassimatis*, J. Edwin Atwood, Renata M. Engler, Peter E. Linz, John D. Grabenstein, Marina N. Vernalis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


Smallpox is a devastating viral illness that was eradicated after an aggressive, widespread vaccination campaign. Routine U.S. childhood vaccinations ended in 1972, and routine military vaccinations ended in 1990. Recently, the threat of bioterrorist use of smallpox has revived the need for vaccination. Over 450,000 U.S. military personnel received the vaccination between December 2002 and June 2003, with rates of non-cardiac complications at or below historical levels. The rate of cardiac complications, however, has been higher than expected, with two confirmed cases and over 50 probable cases of myopericarditis after vaccination reported to the Department of Defense Smallpox Vaccination Program. The practicing physician should use the history and physical, electrocardiogram, and cardiac biomarkers in the initial evaluation of a post-vaccination patient with chest pain. Echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear imaging, and cardiac biopsy may be of use in further workup. Treatment is with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, four to six weeks of limited exertion, and conventional heart failure treatment as necessary. Immune suppressant therapy with steroids may be uniquely beneficial in myopericarditis related to smallpox vaccination, compared with other types of myopericarditis. If a widespread vaccination program is undertaken in the future, many more cases of post-vaccinial myopericarditis could be seen. Practicing physicians should be aware that smallpox vaccine-associated myopericarditis is a real entity, and symptoms after vaccination should be appropriately evaluated, treated if necessary, and reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1503-1510
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American College of Cardiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 5 May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • C-reactive protein
  • CDC
  • CRP
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Department of Defense
  • DoD
  • ECG
  • ESR
  • MRI
  • VIG
  • electrocardiogram
  • erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug


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