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Smallpox, an eradicated disease

Smallpox has existed for at least 3,000 years and was one of the world’s most feared diseases until it was eradicated by a collaborative global vaccination program led by the World Health Organization (WHO). When smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1979, it had already killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone. Royalties such as Queen Mary II of England, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, French King Louis XV and Tsar Peter II of Russia all died of smallpox.

The earliest evidence for the disease comes from the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V, who died in 1157 B.C. The mummy of Ramses V was recovered in 1898 and seemed to indicate that he suffered from smallpox due to lesions found on his face.

Smallpox is caused by the variola virus. Early symptoms include high fever and fatigue. The virus then produces a characteristic rash, particularly on the face, arms and legs. The resulting spots become filled with clear fluid and later, pus, and then form a crust, which eventually dries up and falls off. The disease has a relatively high fatality rate of 30 percent.

In 1796 a new discovery was made by Edward Jenner, a British doctor. He noted that milkmaids after they contracted cowpox never got smallpox. Cowpox is a far milder disease than smallpox, yet the diseases are quite similar. Jenner found that by inoculating people with the cowpox virus, they were protected from infection by the smallpox virus. A word “vaccination,” is derived from the Latin vacca, meaning cow. Further testing proved conclusively that the cowpox virus was able to build immunity against smallpox. Using his theory, similar vaccines were later created for diseases such as yellow fever, mumps, rubella and tetanus. (Floro Mercene)