Bubonic plague vaccine trials set

Clinical trials are beginning for a bubonic plague vaccine, which officials say is a viable bioterror threat, at 10 sites nationwide.

The bubonic plague, one of the world’s oldest known diseases, infects approximately a dozen people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but its potential as a weapon of bioterrorism makes these tests critical as part of the national strategy to protect the country in the case of a terrorist attack.

To conduct the trial, researchers need 30 to 40 healthy individuals between the ages of 18 to 55. They are paid for their participation, according to a recent story by VolunteerTV. Volunteers can earn a total of $1600 for the entirety of the study, $100 for each visit to researchers.

“Everybody will get followed for a total of a year and a half, and we’ll be looking at their antibody levels during that time,” Dr. William Smith told VolunteerTV. “We’re not exposing anyone to the plague.”

Smith is the director of the New Orleans Center for Clinical Research and Volunteer Research Group, based at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“In the study so far, the majority of people have had minor side effects, the most common being injection site pain, redness, swelling," Smith said.

There is good news for those considering participation.

"This is a new vaccine that's being grown in bacteria so that it has less of a chance for a reaction, serious reaction," Dr. Smith said.

Infection with the plague can cause swollen glands with large skin marks. It can be extremely dangerous and has the potential to harm large numbers of people, especially if aerosolized.

"It's only fatal in 10 to 20 percent of people that are treated that have the classic Bubonic Plague,” Dr. Smith said. “And, the ones that have the aerosolized, the Pneumonic Plague, unfortunately, the mortality rate is still in the 40 to 50 percent range, even with treatment."