Home HEALTH Smallpox: The world’s first eradicated disease

Smallpox: The world’s first eradicated disease

SMALLPOX is a debilitating and occasionally fatal disease that’s highly contagious. Prior to 1980, the disease killed 3 out of every 10 people who became infected, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Overall, smallpox caused the deaths of hundreds of millions of people before it was eradicated, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital in New York.
Despite its devastating impact on the human population, smallpox is no longer considered a threat, thanks to a worldwide immunization effort that eradicated the disease by 1977. Smallpox is the only human disease to have been completely eradicated.
Smallpox is caused by the variola virus. There are four different types of the virus, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the symptoms they cause vary in severity.
The virus is transmitted through the air in moisture droplets spread by sneezing, coughing and talking. It can also be spread by touching things that an infected person has touched, although catching the virus that way isn’t as common.
The incubation period for smallpox is generally 12 to 14 days, which means a person may not show signs of infection for around two weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Once the incubation period is over, the infected person will have symptoms of fever, headache, backache, abdominal pain and a general feeling of being unwell. Lesions will also form in the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth.
A discrete and characteristic rash also appears. The rash first forms on the face, hands, forearms, mouth and throat before spreading to the trunk during the second week of illness. As the illness progresses, the rashes become more pronounced and blisters develop. Eight to nine days later, the blisters scab over.
A person is contagious as long as the rash is present; once all the scabs have separated, they’re no longer contagious, said Dr. Robert J. Leggiadro, a physician and professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
An estimated 300 million people around the world died from smallpox in the 20th century, according to a report by the BBC. This is because smallpox has a fatality rate of around 30% in unvaccinated individuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Historically, the virus was most dangerous to women who were pregnant or people who had immune disorders.