On this Day:
On May 8, 1980 the World Health Organization announced that smallpox had been eradicated.
Smallpox is a life-threatening disease that causes pus-filled blisters to develop all over the body. Smallpox was eradicated (eliminated from the world) in 1980. Since then, there have not been any recorded cases of smallpox. Because smallpox no longer occurs naturally, scientists are only concerned that it could reemerge through bioterrorism.
What is Smallpox?
Smallpox is a serious, life-threatening illness causes by variola virus. It causes pus-filled blisters (pustules) to develop on the skin. In the past, people spread smallpox most commonly through direct, prolonged face-to-face contact with others. When they sneezed or coughed, they would send respiratory particles through the air. When other people inhaled these large droplets, they would become infected. Less commonly, people become infected by direct contact with the rash or crust material from a swab.
People also spread the virus to each other by sharing sheets, towels and clothing. The disease is most contagious when sores first appear in the throat and mouth. But a person with smallpox is contagious for several weeks after the first sores develop.
In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that smallpox had been eradicated (wiped out), as since the late 1970s, there have not been any confirmed cases of smallpox.
Before being eradicated, millions of people died from this highly contagious disease. A vaccine can provide protection against smallpox, but vaccinating the general public is not recommended because of concerns about the vaccine’s side effects.
How Common is Smallpox?
There have not been any confirmed cases of smallpox since it was wiped out. Before that, smallpox was a life-threatening disease. Millions of people got smallpox every year and up to 30% of people died of their illness. Death was due to systemic shock (body-wide infection) and toximemia (toxins in the blood). Smallpox is a very contagious disease, with secondary attacks affecting up to 80% of household contacts. Often, people who survived the disease had long-term problems, such as blindness and severe scarring.
Researchers believe that the disease first appeared in the third century. For thousands of years, smallpox spread throughout the world. In the 1960s, the WHO led a worldwide effort to eliminate smallpox.
Could Smallpox Come Back?
Scientists saved some samples of the variola virus (the virus that causes smallpox) so they could continue to research vaccines and treatments. Only two locations in the world have these virus samples. They’re secured at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR Institute) in Russia.
Since smallpox no longer occurs naturally, public health officials are only concerned about it spreading as a result of biological warfare. There hasn’t been any immediate threat of terrorists using smallpox as a weapon but scientists are prepared to respond if someone weaponizes smallpox. The CDC has created enough smallpox vaccine to protect everyone in the United States if the virus does resurface.
What are the Symptoms of Smallpox?
Smallpox symptoms don’t appear right away. A person may not look or feel sick for about 7 to 14 days after exposure to the variola virus. This time is called the incubation period. At the end of the incubation period, the first symptoms appear.
Smallpox can present as four clinical types. The most common form — known as ordinary smallpox — occurs in 90% of the cases. Other types include flat smallpox, hemorrhagic smallpox and vaccine-modified smallpox.
Stages of the Most Common Form of Smallpox:
Initial symptoms: This stage lasts about three days. Symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, backaches, headaches and vomiting.
Early rash: After the initial symptoms, a body-wide rash appears. The person is most contagious during this stage. The virus can spread easily through talking, sneezing or coughing.
During this early stage a rash develops on the tongue and inside the mouth and throat. Red spots in the mouth become sores, which break open.
The rash spreads to the face and then the arms, legs, back and torso. The rash takes about a day to spread all over the body including palms and soles.
Bumps on the skin fill with pus (thick fluid). There may be a dent in the middle of each bump. It takes about two days for the bumps to fill with fluid.Pustular rash and scabs: Bumps turn into pustules (firm, round lumps). Over the next 10 days, crusty scabs form over the pustules. About a week later, scabs start to fall off.
The scabs typically fall off in about three weeks. When they fall off, they leave scars. A person with smallpox is contagious until the last scab has fallen off.
How is it Diagnosed
Since smallpox no longer occurs naturally, a smallpox diagnosis today is very unlikely. Any symptoms are probably signs of another condition or illness. Before eradication, smallpox was easy to recognize, but a few other common illnesses such as severe chickenpox was misdiagnosed as smallpox at times.
Management and Treatment
Can Smallpox be Treated with Medication?
There is no cure for smallpox. Researchers believe some antiviral drugs may make the illness less severe, but providers aren’t sure how effective these treatments would be. They haven’t used the drugs to treat smallpox in the past.
What is the Satus of a Vaccine to Prevent Smallpox, if it Ever Re-emerged?
Although vaccines can protect people from smallpox, they aren’t available to the general public. Only people who work in a lab with the variola virus (and similar viruses) should get the vaccine. The vaccine is generally safe but it has caused severe side effects and complications, such as heart problems and even death.
First, a Story:
Smallpox, the Spanish Flu, and the black death have already done the whole global pandemic thing…
What covid is doing is just plageurism.
Second, a Song:
Courtesy of TEDEd and YouTube.com:
“For 10,000 years, humanity suffered from the scourge of smallpox. The virus killed almost a third of its victims within two weeks and left survivors horribly scarred. But Simona Zompi commends the brave souls — a Buddhist nun, a boy, a cow, a dairymaid and physician Edward Jenner — who first stopped the spread of this disastrous disease, to make us smallpox-free today.
Lesson by Simona Zompi, animation by Augenblick Studios.”
Here is TEDEd on “How we conquered the deadly smallpox virus”. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“In 1967, the world health community launched a global effort to eradicate smallpox. It took a coordinated, worldwide effort, required the commitment of every government, and cost $130 million dollars. By 1977, smallpox had disappeared.
How did we cure polio, smallpox and send a man to the moon? How did we decode the human genome in just 13 years? Collaboration. Focus on a specific goal, and teamwork.”
– Margaret Cuomo
Enjoy today’s Smile? Subscribe to the Smile: delivered daily to your Inbox: https://bit.ly/3JniFkq
Follow the Smile on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SmileoftheDay.ca/
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky