What is Smallpox?
Smallpox is a highly contagious and grave viral infection, that is caused by the variola virus. It's among the deadliest diseases that has ever inflicted mankind. The most recognizable aspect of smallpox is the eruption of a pus-filled rash that covers the entire body of the infected person. These blisters often leave permanent disfiguring pock marks. Sometimes the disease can cause blindness. There are two forms of smallpox – the Variola Major, which is the more serious form, and the Variola Minor. People who contracted the Variola Major usually collapsed almost immediately. With Variola Minor, the infected people remained on their feet for a longer duration, and so the risk of spreading the infection was higher with Variola Minor.

How is Smallpox spread?
As mentioned, smallpox is a contagious, airborne illness that can be contracted by coming in contact with an infected person. The disease remains contagious even as the patient recovers. The virus can be transmitted through the patient's saliva, cough, the pus-filled blisters, clothes, bedding, and so on. The disease is not spread through animals or insects.

Characteristics of Smallpox
About 12 days after exposure to infection, smallpox manifests itself in the form of a high fever and severe body aches. Within a couple of days, the blisters develop as reddish sores, fill out with pus and are particularly conspicuous on the arms, legs, and face of the patient. It takes another week for the blisters to crust over and scab off.

Prevention of Smallpox
There was a worldwide and successful effort to put an end to this disease, beginning in the 1950s and ending in the 1970s. Given the highly contagious nature of smallpox, this was done by quarantining infected persons and everyone coming in contact with them, and getting everyone vaccinated.

Smallpox rarely develops in vaccinated people, and so vaccination is really the best way to stop smallpox. Vaccination within 3 or 4 days of coming in contact with the infection also helps in lessening the viral attack.

Until about 20 or 30 years ago, nearly everybody was inoculated with the smallpox vaccine and eventually the disease was rooted out. Nowadays, since there has been no sign of the disease for a long time, the practice of inoculating has ceased.

The last known natural case of smallpox in the world was in 1977 in Somalia. The last person to succumb to smallpox was a woman photographer working in a British University where smallpox research was being carried out; she contracted the disease and died.

In 1979, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that smallpox had been eliminated completely.

The Smallpox Vaccine
The smallpox vaccine was developed by the Englishman, Edward Jenner between 1796 and 1798. He had noticed how milkmaids who had contracted cow pox were made immune to the virus and he conducted several experiments to discover the reason. His research was greeted with fear and skepticism, but soon the practice of inoculation became widespread.

The smallpox vaccine contains live vaccinia virus. It is generally quite safe to take the vaccine, but people with compromised immunity, skin conditions like eczema, etc., and pregnant women are advised against it, due to the risk of developing some unpleasant after-effects.

It is not known for how long the immunity against this disease lasts. In any case, the practice of getting vaccinated against smallpox ended in 1972.
History of Smallpox Vaccine
Smallpox vaccine is a big achievement in the history of vaccination and medicine. Let us know all about its history, in the information below.
Smallpox Symptoms
Smallpox is an infectious disease, believed to be around for over a thousand years. This Buzzle article enlightens you about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this infectious disease.
Smallpox Vaccine Side Effects
The smallpox vaccine was developed to prevent the occurrence of smallpox. The following article tells you more about this vaccine and its side effects.