Vaccinia Virus (VV)

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Family: Poxviridae Linear, double stranded DNA virus. It is usually 320- 380 by 260-340 nm in size.

Growth Conditions

Two cell lines are used to propagate vaccinia virus for production of the smallpox vaccine: Vero monkey kidney cells and a human fibroblast cell line (MRC5).

Health Hazards

Host Range

Several mammals, including humans, rabbits, cows and river buffalo have been shown to contain the virus

Modes of Transmission

Vaccinia is spread by touching a vaccination site before it has healed or by touching bandages or clothing that have been contaminated with live virus from the smallpox vaccination site

Signs and Symptoms

The vaccination is accompanied by fever, rash, lymphadenopathy, fatigue, myalgia and headaches in some patients. Accidental infection with the virus can occur through contact between the vaccination lesion and broken skin (inadvertent inoculation)

Infectious Dose

Unknown. Vaccine titer is usually 108 pock-forming units per ml

Incubation Period

7-19 days; commonly 10-14 days

Medical Precautions/Treatment




Live vaccinia virus every 10 years.


Cidofovir and vaccinia immune globulin


Monitor for symptoms and confirm using PCR, electron microscopy and histology.

Emory Requirements

Report all incidents.

Laboratory Hazards

Laboratory Acquired Infections (LAIs)

5 laboratory acquired infections were reported until 2007.


Lesion fluids or crusts, respiratory secretions and infected tissues containing the virus.

Supplemental References

Canadian MSDS

Pathogen Safety Data Sheets 

CDC Guidelines

Smallpox Information  



Containment Level 2 facilities with Biosafety Level 3 practices (BSL2 +) are recommended. Viable materials should be manipulated in a biological safety cabinet.

Spill Procedures


Notify others working in the lab. Allow aerosols to settle. Don appropriate PPE. Cover area of the spill with paper towels and apply an EPA registered disinfectant, working from the perimeter towards the center. Allow 30 minutes of contact time before disposal and cleanup of spill materials.


Contact Emory’s Biosafety Officer (404-727-8863),
the EHSO Office (404-727-5922), or
The Spill Response Team (404-727-2888).

Exposure Procedures

Mucous membrane

Flush eyes, mouth or nose for 15 minutes at eyewash station.

Other Exposures

Wash area with soap and water for 15 minutes.


Immediately report incident to supervisor, complete an employee incident report in PeopleSoft.

Medical Followup 

7am-4pm (OIM): EUH (404-686-7941) EUHM (404-686-7106) WW (404-728-6431)

After Hours: OIM NP On Call 404-686-5500 PIC# 50464

Needle Stick (OIM): EUH (404-686-8587) EUHM (404-686-2352)

Yerkes: Maureen Thompson Office (404-727-8012) Cell (404-275-0963)



70% Ethanol, sodium hypochlorite (1-10% dilution of fresh bleach). If using bleach within a biosafety cabinet, always follow up with a 70% ethanol rinse


Autoclave cultures for 30 minutes at 121°C, 15 psi. The virus in its aerosol form is also sensitive to UV light (254 nm).

Survival Outside Host

Up to 39 weeks at 6.7% moisture and 4ºC

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Minimum PPE Requirements

At minimum, personnel are required to don gloves, closed toed shoes, lab coat, and appropriate face and eye protection prior to working with Vaccinia virus. Additional PPE may be required depending on lab specific SOPs.

Additional Precautions

All procedures that may produce aerosols, or involve high concentrations or large volumes should be conducted in a biological safety cabinet (BSC). The use of needles, syringes, and other sharp objects should be strictly limited. Additional precautions should be considered with work involving animals or large scale activities.