, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 263-269

Smallpox: Gone but not forgotten

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Summary

Smallpox represents both the acme of man’s efforts to combat infectious diseases and one of his greatest fears. The disease emerged in prehistoric times to spread throughout the world causing blindness and death in millions of people. An acute infection caused by variola virus, one of the Orthopoxviruses, with skin eruption and marked toxemia had an average case fatality rate of 30%. Variola minor, a milder form of the disease, had a case fatality of one percent. Humans are the sole host, and survival confers lifelong immunity. Immunization was practiced since ancient times by inoculation with the variola virus untilJenner’s demonstration of the efficacy and safety of vaccination with vaccinia virus. Following an intensive eradication effort by the World Health Organization, the world was declared to be free of smallpox in 1979. The decision to destroy all remaining stocks of variola virus in 1999 has met with some controversy.