Difference between revisions of "Smallpox"

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Smallpox, also known as variola, is an acute highly infectious disease caused by the variola virus, a member of the Poxviridae family, and characterized by high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of pimples that blister, pustulate, scab over, and leave scar tissue behind.<ref>http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/overview/disease-facts.asp</ref>
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Smallpox is an acute, highly infectious, often fatal disease caused by a poxvirus and characterized by high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of pimples that blister, produce pus, and form pockmarks. It is also called variola.  
 
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Smallpox comes in two forms.  The least dangerous is called variola minor or alastrim which produces a relatively mild infection and has a death rate of approximately one percent.  The more serious form of smallpox is called variola major which can present in several ways. The most common presentation of variola major is called classic ordinary smallpox where a patient endures the symptoms listed above.  Other, more serious presentations of smallpox include flat smallpox and hemorrhagic smallpox where the victim bleeds excessively rather than forming pustules.  Flat and hemorrhagic pox are usually fatal, though as a whole variola major has a mortality rate of approximately 30%.
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==History==
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Though the exact origins of smallpox are unknown, variola major likely jumped species from cows or other domesticated animals at least 3000 years ago.<ref>http://www.seercom.com/bluto/science/2/immunoweb/bad/invaders/viruses/smallpox/history.html</ref>  The first major suspected outbreak of smallpox is the Plague of Athens in 430 BC, though there were likely earlier cases.  Pharoah Ramses V who died in 1157 BC is believed to have died from smallpox. 
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==Inoculation and vaccination==
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Connecting the survival of smallpox infection and immunity, the practice of inoculation began to be exercised during the 18th century, although the practice can be found dating back to 1000 AD in India, Western Asia, and China.<ref>http://dermatology.about.com/cs/smallpox/a/smallpoxhx.htm</ref>  Those that could afford to be inoculated would intentionally introduce either pus from a smallpox victim or ground smallpox scabs into their systems.  Because of the low dose of infectious material, this would cause a mild case of the disease, but render the individual generally immune to future cases of smallpox.  However, if done improperly, inoculation would result in extreme infection. A member of the English royalty, on assignment with her husband in Turkey, observed inoculation in practice and informed the Crown.  Not wishing to expose their family to unnecessary dangers, they experimented on several prisoners and orphans, and found the inoculation to be successful.  This was one of the first true medical experiments, and an example of abuse of power.
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In 1796, observing that individuals who contract cowpox become immune from smallpox, Edward Jenner, a British physician, inoculated a young boy with cowpox and then challenged his immune system with smallpox.  Although a challenge trial with a potentially fatal disease would be considered unethical by modern standards, Jenner was correct in his observation and accomplished the first vaccination of smallpox.<ref>http://www.sc.edu/library/spcoll/nathist/jenner.html</ref>  Over the course of the 19th century many western countries embarked on mandatory vaccination programs and succeeded in eradicating smallpox within their native populations. 
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==Vaccine==
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The smallpox vaccine is manufactured from the vaccinia (cowpox) virus, and is the only known means of preventing smallpox infection, although there have recently been attempts to develop anti-viral medications.  Smallpox vaccine (aka cowpox infection) is not without it's issues.  Because it is a live-virus vaccine, it cannot be administered to individuals who are immune-compromised, or women that are pregnant or breastfeeding.  The vaccine also causes severe reactions in people who have ever had any type of skin condition, particularly eczema.  In all, the vaccine has a severe complication rate of 1 in 1000, with side effects ranging up to death in approximately 1 case per million.
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==Eradication==
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"''The annihilation of smallpox—the dreadful scourge of the human race—will be the final result of vaccination.''" - Edward Jenner
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Jenner predicted shortly after his initial trial vaccination that smallpox would eventually be eliminated as a threat to humanity.  Although many western nations had achieved mandatory vaccination programs, other countries could not afford the expense.  As early as 1958, the Soviet Union called from the eradication of smallpox by a volunteer effort.  Beginning in 1967, the World Health Organization began a world wide vaccination campaign with the purpose of eradicating smallpox.  The last natural case of variola major occurred in 1975, and the last natural case of variola minor in 1977.
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==The Post-Smallpox Era==
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Following the eradication of smallpox, an accident occurred in 1978 resulting in the death of a British journalist.  Based on this accident, all samples outside the control of the CDC, and the Soviet Ministry of Health were ordered destroyed.  Despite subsequent calls for the destruction of the US and Russian stocks, they are still kept as the last remaining offical stocks of smallpox. 
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Despite the existence of these official stocks, defectors from the former Soviet Union have alleged that the Soviet military commissioned the development of smallpox as a biological weapon in the 1970s and 1980s.
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==References==
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<references/>
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[[Category:Medicine]]
 
[[Category:Medicine]]

Revision as of 09:24, 4 June 2007

Smallpox is an acute, highly infectious, often fatal disease caused by a poxvirus and characterized by high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of pimples that blister, produce pus, and form pockmarks. It is also called variola.