Other names: Variola


Smallpox is a contagious, disfiguring, and often deadly disease caused by the variola virus. It was eradicated worldwide by 1980 through a global immunization campaign. However, concerns remain regarding its potential use in biological warfare.


Symptoms of smallpox typically appear 12 to 14 days after infection and include fever, fatigue, back pain, and a characteristic rash of red spots that progress to fluid-filled blisters before forming scabs.


Smallpox is transmitted directly from person to person through respiratory droplets or indirectly via contaminated items. The virus can also be spread as a terrorist weapon, although this is considered a remote threat.


While most people survive smallpox, severe forms of the disease can be fatal, especially in pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. Scarring and blindness are common complications among survivors.


Diagnosing smallpox early is crucial to prevent its spread. Definitive testing involves taking a tissue sample from the skin lesions of an infected individual.


There is no specific cure for smallpox. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing dehydration. Antibiotics may be used if secondary bacterial infections develop.


During an outbreak, infected individuals are isolated to prevent transmission. Contacts receive the smallpox vaccine within four days of exposure. Routine vaccination is not recommended due to the vaccine's potential risks outweighing the benefits in the absence of an outbreak.


  1. Is smallpox still around today?

Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, but samples of the virus are kept for research purposes.

  1. What are the early symptoms of smallpox?

Early symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, and back pain before the characteristic rash appears.

  1. How is smallpox transmitted?

Smallpox spreads through respiratory droplets or contact with contaminated items.

  1. Can you get smallpox from animals?

No, smallpox is a human disease and does not infect animals.

  1. Is there a cure for smallpox?

There is no specific treatment for smallpox; management focuses on symptom relief.

  1. What are the long-term effects of surviving smallpox?

Survivors may have severe scarring, particularly on the face, arms, and legs, and may experience vision problems.

  1. Why isn't routine vaccination for smallpox recommended?

The vaccine carries risks of serious complications, so it is reserved for specific situations like outbreaks.

  1. Can you still get vaccinated against smallpox today?

Vaccination is available for select groups at higher risk of exposure to the virus.

  1. How can smallpox be diagnosed?

Definitive testing involves taking a tissue sample from the skin lesions of an infected person.

  1. What precautions are taken in case of a suspected smallpox outbreak?

Infected individuals are isolated, contacts are vaccinated promptly, and public health authorities implement containment measures to prevent further spread.