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Smallpox is a highly contagious and deadly disease caused by the variola virus. It has plagued humanity for centuries, causing widespread devastation and claiming countless lives. The symptoms of smallpox are characterized by fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, and a rash that progresses into lesions, scabs, and pustules. In this article, we will delve into the details of smallpox, its history, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

The Early Signs: Fever, Headache, and Fatigue

Smallpox typically begins with flu-like symptoms, including a sudden onset of high fever, severe headache, and overall fatigue. These early signs may be mistaken for other common illnesses, making it crucial to be aware of the potential risk factors and seek medical attention if necessary.

The Unmistakable Rash: Body Aches and Lesions

As the disease progresses, a distinctive rash appears on the face, arms, and legs. The rash starts as small red spots and gradually transforms into raised bumps known as papules. These papules then develop into fluid-filled blisters called pustules. The body aches intensify during this stage, causing immense discomfort for the affected individual.

The Scabbing Stage: Scabs and Pustules

After a few days, the pustules begin to form a crust and scab over. This scabbing stage is a critical phase in the progression of smallpox. The scabs eventually fall off, leaving behind pitted scars that serve as a reminder of the battle fought against this formidable disease.

Treatment and Prevention

Smallpox has no specific cure, but supportive care can help alleviate symptoms and improve the chances of recovery. It is essential to isolate the infected individual to prevent the spread of the virus to others. Vaccination is the most effective method of preventing smallpox.

Vaccination: The Key to Prevention

The smallpox vaccine, known as the vaccinia vaccine, has been instrumental in eradicating the disease globally. It stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that protect against the variola virus. Routine vaccination programs have played a significant role in preventing smallpox outbreaks and ultimately eradicating the disease.

Isolation: Containing the Spread

Isolation is crucial to prevent the transmission of smallpox. Infected individuals should be quarantined to minimize contact with others. Strict infection control measures, such as wearing protective clothing and practicing proper hygiene, are essential for healthcare workers and caregivers.

Lessons from History: Smallpox Eradication

Smallpox has plagued humanity for thousands of years, causing immense suffering and death. However, through a global vaccination campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO), smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980. This monumental achievement stands as a testament to the power of vaccines and international collaboration.

The Last Known Case: Ali Maow Maalin

Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Somalia, holds the unfortunate distinction of being the last person to contract naturally occurring smallpox. In 1977, he fell ill with the disease but survived, thanks to the swift response of health authorities who implemented containment measures. Maalin’s recovery marked a significant milestone in the fight against smallpox.


Smallpox, with its characteristic symptoms of fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, rash, lesions, scabs, and pustules, has left an indelible mark on human history. The eradication of smallpox serves as a beacon of hope, showcasing the power of vaccines and global cooperation in overcoming deadly diseases. While smallpox no longer poses a threat, it is crucial to remain vigilant and continue to prioritize vaccination and disease prevention to ensure a healthier future for all.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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