Smallpox is a very serious illness caused by a virus called the "Variola" virus. Smallpox is a viral disease characterized by a skin rash and a high death rate. Over the centuries smallpox has killed more people than all other infectious diseases combined but worldwide immunization has stopped the spread of smallpox three decades ago. Smallpox gets its name from the pus-filled blisters or pocks that form during the illness. Although the names may sound alike, smallpox is not related to chickenpox, which is a milder disease caused by a different virus.
There are two forms of smallpox:
Smallpox is the only disease that has been completely wiped out throughout the world. Smallpox is also potentially one of the most devastating biological weapons ever conceived.
Smallpox was once found throughout the world, causing illness and death wherever it occurred.
Signs & Symptoms
Smallpox spreads very easily from person to person. The first symptoms of smallpox usually occur within 10 to 14 days after exposure, with the rash appearing two to four days later. The first symptoms could appear, however, as early as seven days after exposure, or as late as 17 days. Symptoms are flu-like and include high fever, fatigue and headache and backache, followed by a rash with flat red sores.
Diagnosis of smallpox is made using an electron microscope to identify virus in fluid from the papules, urine, or in the patient's blood prior to the appearance of the papular rash.
If the smallpox vaccination is given within 1-4 days of exposure to the disease, it may prevent illness, or at least lessen the degree of illness associated with the disease. There is no proven treatment for smallpox, but research to evaluate new antiviral agents is ongoing. Patients with smallpox can benefit from supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever or pain and antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infections that may occur.