A medical photographer who contracted smallpox while working near a laboratory that stockpiles live virus died yesterday in an isolation hospital near here.
Doctors diagnosed Janet Parker, 40, a victim of the highly communicable disease two weeks ago. She worked near a microbiology lab at Birmingham University.
The last recorded smallpox death was of a 6-year-old girl in Somalia last October, according to the World Health Organization, which has directd efforts to eradicate the disease.
Authorities pointed out that the Somalia death contracted in a country where the disease has been endemic, was not comparable to the case here that apparently came from laboratory contact. In a similar case in 1973, smallpox virus infected a lab employe in London. He recovered but two persons who contracted it from him died.
A local health authority spokesman said three of Parker's contacts have shown some symptons of the disease and are in isolation. They are her mother, Hilda Witcomb, 70; ambulance driver Ann Whale, 23, who took Parker to the hospital, and lab worker Cherry Hall, 23. Another 40 possible contacts are being observed in isolation.
Parker's father, Frederic Witcomb, 71, died in the same hospital after being admitted as a possible contact but doctors said the cause was a heart attack.
The head of the lab where live virus research was being carried out, Henry Bedson, 49, blamed himself for the infection and committed suicide last week by cutting his throat.
There are two strains of smallpox virus, the minor, last found in Somalia and Kenya, and the major, last noted in India and Bangladesh. World Health Organization officials say the eradication efforts in Africa are continuing although there have been no new confirmed cases among thousands of reports investigated in the last year. It will be another year or two before a determination can be made as to whether the disease has been eliminated.
The last outbreak from the major strain on the Indian subcontinent was in 1976.
In the United States, the last reported smallpox case was in the 1940s and there have been no such cases in Europe since the early 1970s, according to World Health Organization officials. These cases were the result of persons contracting the disease elsewhere and then traveling to Europe.