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A Brief History Of Smallpox

Smallpox, an extremely infectious disease caused by one of two varieties of virus, was a serious worldwide medical concern until its elimination by vaccination. Over the span of human history, the presence of smallpox has waxed and waned, leaving in its wake outbreaks of the virus which, at times, reached pandemic proportions. While smallpox is not always a fatal illness, every variety has the potential to be fatal. As late as the mid 1900s, even individuals living in first world countries were routinely immunized against the destructive virus, a vaccination which leaves a distinctive circular scar. Smallpox is no longer a serious threat, but it has an extensive history and has made its mark on humankind.

The History of Smallpox

It is estimated that the presence of virus variants Variola major and Variola minor, the variants responsible for smallpox, were first observed in humans circa 10,000 BC. The first historical evidence of a smallpox case that was conclusively observed was done so when examining the remains of the Pharaoh Ramses V. The virus took the lives of over four hundred thousand Europeans per year as the conclusion of the 18th century neared, and was the third leading cause of vision loss. Adults who contracted the disease during this time had as much as a 60% chance of loss of life, (Read More)....

The 3 Worst Epidemics In History

1. The Black Death, Reaching a crescendo of horror between 1348 and 1350, this plague remains the worst disease outbreak known to us in human history. It killed 75-100 million other words, something like a fifth of the people then living in the world, including half the population of Europe. A disaster on that scale is hard for us to even get our heads around. But it happened.

Why “black”? At the time it was known predominantly as “the Great Plague or “the Great Pestilence,” but the name “Black Death” or “Black Plague” was given by later historians, not to indicate the appearance of necrosis experienced by sufferers (though in some cases people’s extremities did indeed turn black), but simply to emphasize the awful and seemingly apocalyptic nature of the pandemic.

The disease behind it all was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, the bubonic plague, spread by fleas parasitic to rats. The microbe was discovered in 1894 by a Pasteur Institute scientist studying an outbreak in Hong Kong. Thanks to the germ theory of disease and the later discovery of antibiotic therapy, bubonic plague is now thoroughly treatable. But the Black Death was only one of many catastrophic outbreaks of this disease, including the Plague of Justinian in 541 AD and the (Read More)....