A vaccine preventable illness

Identification and definition

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease. The is not a specific treatment for smallpox and the only prevention is vaccination. At this time the vaccination is not available to the public because it has been eradicated around the world.

History of Smallpox

Smallpox outbreaks have occurred for thousands of years, but has been successfully eradicated after a worldwide vaccination program. The last case of smallpox in the United states was in 1949, and the last case in the world was in Somalia in 1977.

Signs and Symptoms of Smallpox

Incubation Period: No symptoms and person may feel fine. Incubation period averages about 12-14 days, but can range 7-17 days. Person is not contagious at this time.

Initial symptoms: Fever, head and body aches, and sometimes vomiting. Fever is usually 101-104 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually lasts 2-4 days. The person is sometimes contagious.

Early Rash: Appears first as small red spots on the tongue and in the mouth. The spots develop into sores that break open and spreads the virus into the mouth and throat, at this time the person is most contagious. When the sores in the mouth break open, a rash appears on the skin, starting on the face and spreading to the arms and legs then to the hands and feet. The rash spreads to all parts of the body within 24 hours. By day three the rash becomes raised bumps, by the fourth day the bumps fill with a thick, opaque fluid and usually have a depression in the center that looks like a bellybutton and fever often will rise again at this time and remain high until scabs form over the bumps. The duration of this stage is about 4 days and the most contagious.

Pustular Rash: The bumps become pustules- they are sharply raised, usually around and firm to touch. (People often say the bumps feel like BB pellets in the skin.) Duration is usually about 5 days and the person is contagious.

Pustules and Scabs: The pustules begin to form a crust and then scab. By the end of the second week after the rash appears, most sores are scabbed over. The person can be contagious.

Scabs Resolved: Scabs have fallen off. Person is no longer contagious.

Transmission of Smallpox

Usually smallpox is spread by direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact. Smallpox can also be spread through through direct contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects. Rarely, it has been spread by the virus being carried in the air in enclosed settings such as; buildings, buses or trains. It is not known to be transmitted by insects or animals. Humans are the only natural hosts of the disease.

Complications of Smallpox

Patients who survive smallpox usually have extensive scarring on the skin

Other complications:

  • Eye problems
  • Bronchopneumonia
  • Arthritis
  • Osteomyelitis

Recommended Control Measures for Smallpox

Routine vaccination against smallpox for the general population was stopped soon after the disease was declared to have been eradicated from the world. The last manufactured batches of the smallpox vaccine are kept at the CDC and ready to use in the event of an outbreak.