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About Smallpox

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease unique to humans. There is no specific treatment for smallpox disease, and the only prevention is vaccination. Smallpox is an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. 1 The pox part of smallpox is derived from the Latin names varius, meaning spotted, or varus, meaning “pimple”, this refers to the raised bumps that appear on the face and body of an infected person.1

Smallpox localizes in small blood vessels of the skin and in the mouth and throat. In the skin, this results in a characteristic maculopapular rash, and later, raised fluid-filled blisters. Historically V. major produces a more serious disease and has an overall mortality rate of 30–35%. V. minor causes a milder form of disease (also known as alastrim, cottonpox, milkpox, whitepox, and Cuban itch) with death rates of about 1% of its victims.3, 4 Long-term complications of V. major infection include characteristic scars, commonly on the face, which occur in 65–85% of survivors.5 Blindness resulting from corneal ulceration and scarring, and limb deformities due to arthritis and osteomyelitis are less common complications, seen in about 2–5% of cases.

Smallpox is believed to have emerged in human population around 10,000 BC.2 The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year during the 18th century and was responsible for a third of all blindness.3 Out of all those infected, 20–60% of adults and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.6

During the 20th century smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths.7, 8, 9 In the early 1950s an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year.10 As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year.10 The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949. The last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the eradication of smallpox in December 1979.10

1.Ryan KJ, Ray CG (editors) (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology (4th ed.). McGraw Hill. pp. 525–8. ISBN 0838585299.

2.Barquet N, Domingo P (15 Oct 1997). “Smallpox: the triumph over the most terrible of the ministers of death”. Ann. Intern. Med. 127 (8 Pt 1): 635–42. PMID 9341063. http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/127/8_Part_1/635.

3.Behbehani AM (01 Dec 1983). “The smallpox story: life and death of an old disease”. Microbiol Rev 47 (4): 455–509. PMID 6319980. PMC 281588. http://mmbr.asm.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=6319980.

4.”Smallpox”. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases. http://web.archive.org/web/20071009141639/http://www.afip.org/Departments/infectious/sp/text/1_1.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-28.

5.Jezek Z, Hardjotanojo W, Rangaraj AG (1981). “Facial scarring after varicella. A comparison with variola major and variola minor”. Am. J. Epidemiol. 114 (6): 798–803. PMID 7315828

6.Riedel S (2005). “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination”. Proc (Baylor Univ Med Cent) 18 (1): 21–5. PMID 16200144.

7.Koplow, David A. (2003). Smallpox: the fight to eradicate a global scourge. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24220-3.

8.”UC Davis Magazine, Summer 2006: Epidemics on the Horizon”. http://ucdavismagazine.ucdavis.edu/issues/su06/feature_1b.html. Retrieved 2009-11-03.

9.How Poxviruses Such As Smallpox Evade The Immune System, ScienceDaily, February 1, 2008 10.”Smallpox”. WHO Factsheet. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/smallpox/en/. Retrieved 2007-09-22.

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