The Silent Threat of Smallpox

The last known natural case of smallpox was in 1977, in the African nation of Somalia. It was declared eradicated in 1980, thanks to the efforts of The World Health Organization. Their strategic vaccination campaigns wiped the deadly disease from the Earth and no wild cases of natural smallpox have occurred since then. With the threat eliminated, countries, including the United States, ceased preventative smallpox vaccinations altogether. Today, only persons over the age of fifty or so bear the telltale round vaccination pockmark on the upper arm, a silent reminder of a time when smallpox still stalked the Earth, killing, blinding and disfiguring its victims.

What is Smallpox?

Smallpox infection is caused by a virus called variola. It begins with a high fever, backache and headache. It’s extremely contagious. The disease spreads through direct contact and also through the air. After a few days, pustules, or blisters, full of pus appear on the face, arms, legs and trunk. Smallpox pustules can also appear on the corneas, causing possible blindness. About a third to a half of all victims will die, depending on the power of the smallpox strain involved. Those who recover will nearly always be horribly disfigured because the pustules leave behind severe scars. About a third of survivors will be blinded from the disease. One attack confers lifelong immunity.


In the 1700’s, an English physician named Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids invariably had smooth complexions because they had never contracted smallpox. He deduced, correctly, that the cowpox so common among cattle, which the milkmaids would catch, must be somehow protecting the milkmaids from smallpox infection. He was right. Nearly all species are prone to some type of smallpox-related virus. There is monkeypox and even camelpox. However, chicken pox is not related to smallpox. Chicken pox is actually a type of herpes infection. Jenner eventually made a vaccine from material he obtained from the sores, or pox, on the cattle. Cowpox is a relatively mild disease, but because it’s so closely related to smallpox, still confers immunity to those who have either had the actual disease or been vaccinated with vaccinia, the name of the virus that causes cowpox.

Could Smallpox Return?

By around 1980 or so, all smallpox vaccination had ceased, leaving vast numbers of people without any immunity to the disease at all. Between that and the fact that modern transportation can carry people from one end of the world to the other in a day, an outbreak of smallpox could be devastating. In 2014, in Siberia, a heat wave caused the permafrost soil to melt, revealing 100-plus-year-old graves and corpses. Many of these corpses bore the characteristic marks of smallpox, and fragments of its DNA were also found. Your text to link…Concerns about the possible return of an age-old killer were raised. Is the world really safe? What about foreign labs that may be hiding old stocks of variola? Are they a threat, too? Even though vaccinia is one of the more dangerous vaccinations to take, still, it’s relatively safe for most people. Should we have stopped it?

If you’re old enough to have received a smallpox vaccination as a child, you have only to look at the mark on your arm to wonder if you’re still protected. The evidence suggests that you probably are protected against smallpox, at least to some degree, even some fifty years after vaccination. It seems that the body’s immune cells remember that painful vaccination for a long, long time. Your text to link…

Vaccine Not Available to the Public

For now, only people who are considered to be first-responders, such as certain rescue, military and medical personnel, may still receive the smallpox vaccine. Sometimes there are clinical trials in which the vaccine is being tested, and the general public may have access to it that way. The United States has vast amounts of vaccinia in storage, ready for a crisis should it appear.

What do you Think?

Do you think that smallpox vaccinations should have continued? Do you feel that you have the right to make the vaccination decision for yourself and your family? Does the government have the right to keep a critical vaccine against such a horrible disease from the public if they want it? Will the government, in the event of a smallpox outbreak, be able to act quickly enough to get people vaccinated in time to help?

Only you can decide.