Smallpox is a disease caused by a virus. At one time, it was one of the world’s most feared infections. Smallpox has no treatment or cure. It can be fatal. Smallpox is nearly nonexistent as a result of a worldwide vaccination effort. The last case in the US was in 1949. The last naturally occurring case in the world occurred in 1977. There have been no cases of smallpox reported anywhere. The vaccine is no longer given.

Because of bioterrorism threats, it’s important to remember the facts about smallpox.

Smallpox can be spread from person to person by direct, face-to-face contact. It can also be spread through bodily fluids or linens and clothing that have been contaminated. Smallpox can be spread through the air, although this is rare.

The primary symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting

As the virus advances, a red rash appears on the tongue and in the mouth. The rash then spreads. Spots begin to break open. The rash spreads across the body. It turns from red spots into raised bumps. By day 4, the bumps fill with fluid and have a depression in the middle. Scabs form over all of the bumps.

The smallpox vaccine contains a live virus, called the vaccinia virus. This is related to smallpox. The vaccine is given as multiple pinpricks usually in the arm.