Smallpox - the World Deadliest Disease Defeated Once and For All

In the years leading up to the 21st century, smallpox had made itself known as one of the worlds deadliest epidemics. The earliest credible evidence of smallpox dates back to almost 3000 years ago on the bodies of mummies from the 18th and 20th Egyptian Dynasty discovered by a multinational team of scientists. In reality, the works and history of this disease is still rather unclear to modern researchers, as it poses more questions than answers. There is still so much to learn about smallpox, even after its eradication.

But who is to be credited with the abolition that saved hundreds of millions of lives in advance? Edward Jenner, an English physician from the 18th century, is recognised for the development of the smallpox vaccine – which also doubled over as the first vaccine ever created – and though his achievements are beyond commendable, he rarely gets the acknowledgement he deserves nowadays.

Jenner followed through the observation that milkmaids who were formerly infected with cowpox were seemingly immune to the smallpox plague. This observation was first formulated in 1768 by another English physician, John Fewster, though it wasn’t until Edward Jenner’s inoculation that the procedure of vaccination became widely understood. Jenner later suggested that the pus from the blisters that others received from cowpox protected them from smallpox.

After collecting enough evidence which ultimately deemed his theory consistent and reliable, Jenner finally decided to demonstrate his work on a local 8 year old boy, James Phipps. He injected Phipps with the blisters from a milkmaid who had cowpox and subsequently, the boy fell ill with a moderate fever. Phipps was later inoculated with the scabs of smallpox and was found to be immune. The impact this discovery had was essentially universal, and it changed hundreds of millions of lives.

At one point in history, smallpox was the world’s most feared disease. The disease is airborne, meaning that it’s extremely contagious. Any direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected could and most likely would spread the variola virus. In addition to this, smallpox was deadly in 30% of cases, and the number rose to approximately 45% amongst children. An estimated 300 million people died of smallpox in the 19th century alone.

Overall, while Jenner’s vaccine eradicated the disease entirely, it also opened up a whole new branch of medicinal science, and now most modern vaccines have derived from his giant leap of intellect.

07 July 2022
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