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Smallpox is an infection caused by the variola virus. For a long, long time smallpox was a dreaded infectious disease which affected people all over the world. In 1796 a British doctor, Edward Jenner, developed the first vaccine. Although people were not too willing to be vaccinated in the beginning, it worked so well that soon it became popular. A rigorous vaccination programme was started and in 1980 WHO announced that small pox was eradicated from the world. The last known case was in Africa in 1977. This was the first that an infectious disease was wiped out and no vaccinations are necessary.

Some samples of the virus are saved in laboratories but these are for research purposes. They are heavily guarded and pose no threat to mankind. It is good to learn about the disease and be able to recognise it. The incubation period or the time it takes for the disease to develop after a person has been exposed to infection, is from seven to fifteen days.

Smallpox symptoms

The symptoms can be mistaken for flu in the beginning. A child may complain of headache, backache, fatigue and have high fever. In 2 to 3 days a rash appears on the face, legs and arms. Soon the red marks fill with pus. Then they crust over and scabs are formed. These dry and fall off in about 3 to 4 weeks.

Smallpox is a very contagious disease and spreads rapidly. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets of fluid containing the virus spread in the environment. These infect all those who come in contact with them. A person remains contagious and capable of spreading the disease till all the scabs have dried and fallen off.

Treatment

Aantibiotics work only against bacteria and as smallpox is a disease spread by virus, they are ineffective. Vaccination is the only way to be safe from the disease. It has been wiped out but should there be an outbreak, quickly vaccinating the population will stop the disease from spreading. Researchers are trying to develop treatment for smallpox. No person is likely to be exposed to the virus now so there is no need to worry.