Vaccinia virus gene B15R is shown to encode an abundant, secretory glycoprotein that functions as a soluble interleukin-1 (IL-1) receptor. This IL-1 receptor has novel specificity since, in contrast with cellular counterparts, it binds only IL-1 beta and not IL-1 alpha or the natural competitor IL-1 receptor antagonist. The vaccinia IL-1 beta receptor is secreted when expressed in a baculovirus system and competitively inhibited binding of IL-1 beta to the natural receptor on T cells. Deletion of B15R from vaccinia virus accelerated the appearance of symptoms of illness and mortality in intranasally infected mice, suggesting that the blockade of IL-1 beta by vaccinia virus can diminish the systemic acute phase response to infection and modulate the severity of the disease. The IL-1 beta binding activity is present in other orthopoxviruses.