Smallpox is a very contagious disease that can sometimes be fatal. There are three different types of smallpox that affect humans. The most common version, which is called Ordinary Smallpox, accounts for nine out of 10 total infections that occur. Modified infections of smallpox happen when someone who has been vaccinated against the disease has an active infection present. The most rare, but most severe version of smallpox, is called the Flat Hemorrhagic Smallpox. Infections of this version of smallpox are almost always fatal.
1. It Hangs Around
It can take up to 17 days for smallpox to go through its incubation period. During the incubation period, people who have been exposed smallpox are not contagious. This means face-to-face contact or exposure to body fluids of someone who eventually develops an active infection is not dangerous.
2. It’s Hard to Transmit
Smallpox is a relatively weak virus when it’s all by itself. If you were to spray smallpox into the air, 90% of the virus was sprayed into the year would die within 24 hours. Because of this weakness, insects and animals are not able to transmit the disease at all. Humans can only get smallpox from other humans who have an active infection.
3. It Can Still Be Fatal
It is true that with common smallpox, the majority of people who have an active infection will eventually recover. On average, about three out of every 10 people with an active infection of smallpox will die from the disease. In the 1950s, more than 15 million cases of smallpox were reported each year. It is believed that smallpox has killed more than 500 million people in the last century alone.
4. Wiped Out
The last naturally occurring case of smallpox that has been documented in the world happened in 1977. By May 1980, it was officially listed as being eradicated. There are only two officially sanctioned repositories that are able to stock smallpox research purposes. Those two places are the CDC in Atlanta, GA, and the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Koltsovo.
5. Found Some More
In 2014, six vials were found in the FDA’s Bethesda, MD campus in an unused storage room. When tested, it was discovered that these 6 vials contained smallpox. Later testing showed that two of the files, which dated back to 1954, still contained live virus samples.
6. It Helps After Exposure
Even if someone has been exposed to smallpox, the vaccine can help. If the vaccine is been given within three or four days of the exposure incident, there is a possibility that the illness can be prevented. Routine vaccination of smallpox, however, stopped in 1972 in the United States. That’s because the last smallpox case in the US that was documented happened in 1949. Only certain military and medical personnel are still vaccinated against the disease.
7. A Plan of Action
All 50 states in the US and the District of Columbia have instructions on how to vaccinate the entire American public within seven days of an outbreak. Because of this, smallpox still isn’t a threat like it used to be. It is still considered eradicated.