Smallpox Facts: World Diseases

Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by Variola major or Variola minor virus. Scientists believe that smallpox was first transmitted to humans from an African terrestrial rodent between 16,000 and 68,000 years ago in Egypt. This is before the emergence of agricultural practices in ancient Egypt. This is evident from the mummified body of Pharaoh Ramses who had pustular eruptions. The diseases killed large numbers of people during the last quarter of the 18th century, and the age group most affected was children. After the success of the smallpox vaccination, the World Health Organization declared that the infectious disease had been eradicated in 1980. The last case of natural smallpox was recorded in October 1977.

Sign and symptoms

After contracting smallpox, a victim can take 12 to 14 days to show signs and symptoms. Immediately after inhalation, Variola major begins to attack the mouth, throat and respiratory tubules. The virus multiplies rapidly as it moves around the body’s cells. All this happens during the incubation period without any visible signs. The virus then enters the bloodstream, spleen and bone marrow. The initial symptoms resemble those of other common viral diseases such as the flu and the cold. The victims have high fever, muscle pain, prostration, severe headaches and malaise. As the virus proceeds to affect the digestive system, nausea, vomiting and frequent loss of appetite occur. The most distinct symptom of smallpox is a rash that appears on the whole body. The virus attacks the skin cells that lead to the formation of rashes. The eruptions appear first on the forehead before spreading on the rest of the face, then on the whole body. In extreme cases, smallpox has caused blindness and death to the victims.

Transmission mode

The virus that causes smallpox is transmitted mainly through inhalation. The variola dispersed in the air enters the body through the mouth or the nasal cavity. Transmission occurs through face-to-face contact with an infected person. The virus is highly contagious. It can be transmitted by an infected person who is in a range of 2 meters. Contact with infected bodily fluids such as saliva can also transmit the virus. Even infected objects such as clothes can transmit the virus. The virus is more prone to spread when the rash develops. In general, the virus that causes smallpox spreads slowly but widely compared to other viral diseases. In temperate regions, smallpox has been observed to be common during winter and spring.


The first known prevention of smallpox was known as inoculation. Inoculation has produced a lasting immunity against the virus. In simpler terms, inoculation is the induction of artificial immunity in the body to prevent smallpox infection.

The smallpox vaccine that is used in a modern way has been a great success. The smallpox vaccine developed by Edward Jenner has come a long way in eradicating the disease. Through vaccination, a live virus is introduced into the body. The vaccine will fight the variola virus after it has been introduced into the body. However, in some parts of the world, the vaccine is no longer given due to the complete eradication of the disease.

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