Vaccination prevented the disease from spreading worldwide, and by 1980 it was eradicated. Despite this success, the virus remains active and could be used as a biological weapon. Smallpox is spread from person to person by infected saliva droplets. Infection can happen from face-to-face contact, airborne spread, or through touching the rash or scabs.
Varicella zoster virus
The varicella zoster virus (VZV) is a member of the herpesviridae family and infects human skin. It is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with an infected person who is shedding respiratory droplets. It can also be transmitted through clothing, bedding, or a contaminated surface. The virus produces a characteristic rash and is infectious until the scabs fall off. The infection can be fatal in newborns, immunocompromised adults, and pregnant women.
The first symptoms of smallpox include a high fever, fatigue, headache, and body aches. Then, a rash develops on the face, arms, and legs. The rash first appears as flat, itchy spots, but soon develops into small fluid-filled blisters. The blisters then turn into pus-filled lesions, which eventually scab over and leave deep pitted scars. The rash can last a week or more. During this time, patients are most contagious and cannot go to school or work.
If a person receives the vaccine for varicella, it will provide immunity against the disease. However, the vaccine is not 100% effective, and some people may get breakthrough varicella after receiving the vaccine. Studies have identified asthma and steroid use as risk factors for breakthrough varicella. Breakthrough varicella is less severe than infection without the vaccine and usually does not cause a fever. Vaccine and natural (wild) VZV-specific antibodies persist in the body and can be detected by PCR testing, which can identify the presence of vaccine- or wild-type virus in a specimen.
How Can We Eradicate It
The varicella zoster vaccine, or VZV, is a series of injections that prevents people from developing shingles. It’s usually given to children between the ages of 12 and 13. Health care workers are also screened for the vaccine.
The vaccine works by infecting a person’s body with a live virus and then forcing the patient’s immune system to fight it off. Vaccine recipients may have mild symptoms, such as a fever, headache, and sore muscles. Smallpox vs chickenpox both appear as blisters, causing lesions on the skin. Some people may have blisters at the injection sites, but these typically clear within 4 days.
Smallpox is extremely contagious and can be spread in several ways. Most often, it spreads through drops of saliva when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread through contact with the rash or items (like clothing or bedding) that touch it. People don’t become contagious until after the scabs have fallen off.
The World Health Organization has an excellent website that delves into the eradication of smallpox and current efforts to prevent outbreaks. The National Institutes of Health has an equally thorough site with information on vaccination and treatment. NIAID supports basic, preclinical and clinical research that advances the development of products for biodefense, including new vaccines against diseases like smallpox. Its website also offers extensive resources on other topics related to public health.
Contact With Infected Person
Before the vaccine was eradicated, smallpox spread through close face-to-face contact (such as a kiss or hug), airborne droplets when a person with smallpox coughs or sneezes, and contact with infected items such as clothing and bedsheets. It can also spread when someone is sick with the disease and coughs or sneezes into their hands, then touches an object, like a doorknob, which was touched by the virus.
People who have come into contact with the virus begin to show symptoms within a few days. The first symptoms include high fever, fatigue and headache, followed by a rash that appears mostly on the face, arms and legs. The rash starts as flat red marks that evolve to become pus-filled lesions. These eventually scab over. After about three weeks, the scabs fall off.
About 30 percent of all cases of smallpox result in death, often from complications such as infection of the small air sacs of the lungs (bronchopneumonia) and bleeding in the digestive tract or other parts of the body. Hemorrhagic smallpox occurs in five to 10 percent of all cases and results in generalized erythema with hemorrhages on the skin and mucous membranes.
Vaccinated persons who develop the disease experience significantly milder symptoms and recover more quickly. However, the disease can be fatal in some people, especially those with weakened immune systems such as HIV positive individuals or those who have received organ transplants, and pregnant women.
Smallpox is an extremely contagious disease that can cause severe symptoms in those who are not vaccinated. The virus spreads mainly by breathing in virus-containing droplets, but it can also be spread through the sharing of clothes or bedding. Infection with the virus can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including fever, headache, body aches and a rash. The illness can be fatal if not treated quickly and adequately. A massive worldwide vaccination campaign eradicated the common variola major form of the virus in 1977, and in 1980 WHO declared smallpox eliminated – one of the most remarkable public health successes in history.
Infection with the variola minor form of the virus is less serious, but it can still be fatal. Death from variola major occurs in about 30% of unvaccinated people who develop it, and from variola minor about 3% of the time.
The first signs of smallpox appear as a rash that is red and raised, and often feels like BB pellets under the skin. After a few days, the bumps fill with pus and begin to break down, and they turn into scabs that fall off after a week or so. The infected person is most infectious during this stage and until all of the scabs have fallen off. This period lasts for about three weeks.
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