Smallpox or Variola Vera is a congenital viral disease predominantly found in the temperate regions of the world. It is caused by Variola minor and Variola major viruses, which cause severe fever along with painful blisters on the skin. The other medical names of smallpox are Cuban itch, milk pox, alastrim, white pox, red plague and cotton pox. This Virus is classified as Group 1 dsDNA. It is found in the Unassigned Order and belongs to Poxviridae family. Its subfamily is Chordopoxvirinae. Its genus is Orthopox virus and species type of Vaccinia and Variola virus. There is no effective vaccine discovered so far to treat this deadly virus. Many African and Asian countries still associate it with gods and demons and believe that only they can cure this disease. They try to appease these gods and demons by performing some rituals and religious practices. Before appealing to gods and demons, people should know that it is a deadly disease, if not treated with antiviral drugs.

Spread and Symptoms

Smallpox is caused by variola virus which is contagious. It is spread to other humans by direct contacts, when an infected person talks, coughs and sneezes. Here the fluids from his mouth and nose can spread this virus. Indirectly it can spread through air and through home ventilators. It can be contracted by living in the same area where a patient lives. Sharing of bed, clothing and other common articles in daily use can also spread this disease when found with contamination. Sooner or later when masses are infected, it can breakout like an epidemic among the humans. The incubation period varies from 2 to 3 weeks time, till that time an infected person may feel healthy, but he or she spreads this virus during this period. Within 3 weeks time of getting infected, the infected person may get a few signs and symptoms like overall discomfort in the body, severe back pain, fever, severe fatigue and vomiting. These symptoms are followed by red blisters on sensitive areas like face, neck and arms. The blisters appear slowly causing discomfort and pain. They grow up to puss formation stage and break out automatically within 8 o 10 days time. A deep scar or mark is caused on the skin where the blister was formed.

Prevention and Cure

Early vaccination during childhood is one of the best preventive measures against smallpox. It is advisable to administer oral vaccines to the children within 5 years of age. In spite of vaccination, there are possibilities of catching smallpox when it breaks out like an epidemic. So far no smallpox vaccine is found fully effective. Only major preventive ways shall avoid getting infected by this disease. Keeping the infected person in isolation will prevent the disease from spreading further to other family members. It is advisable to take pre-vaccination for those people who are responsible to take care of the infected person. Try to avoid contamination through cloths, bedding and utensils used by the patient. It is advisable to burn off all the materials used by patients so that the virus does not spread to other people. Use gloves, face masks and protective clothing while treating a patient. While moving in public places in the times of epidemics, it is advisable to wear a face nose mask, full sleeve shirts and full pants. So far, no effective cure is developed to prevent smallpox. The vaccine for smallpox is still under testing phase. The patient can be kept under observation and a few antibiotics can be given depending on the severity of infection. Utmost care should be taken of a patient and he should not get dehydrated. The cidofovir is the only antiviral drug in use to treat smallpox; it has shown a remarkable recovery and is used in many countries.

Research and Development

Dryvax vaccine is used in many developed countries to treat smallpox. The underdeveloped countries use cidofovir as an antiviral drug to treat the patients. The effective vaccine for Smallpox is still in research since 1980 and only animal tests are found effective. It is not approved for clinical trials on humans due to its harmful side effects. Many virologists and chemists are involved in rapid test activities to bring out a harmless vaccine which can be used for all ages. Recently the Tecovirimat antibiotic drug was approved by the FDA and also tested by the CDC. It is found be more advanced than cidofovir. The W.H.O. has given nod to use Tecovirimat for treating smallpox worldwide. BARDA has developed ST-246 which has fewer side effects on humans and it can be used if approved by the FDA and other health departments of the world.

History of Smallpox

Smallpox has been prominently noticed in many countries since the ancient times. In India many records were found since 1500 BC of this deadly disease. There are also stone carvings and motifs found in the Egyptian mummies since 3000 BC, these motifs have full depiction of how the person was infected and died during the treatment. Since 1122 BC this was prominent in China too. From 6th to 7th century AD it was prominent in China and Japan. In the 1st century AD it was reported in the Roman Empire. Till medieval period it was called as a deadly disease and no one knew about the cause. The Azadirachta indica leafs were the common herbal medicine used to treat smallpox in the Africa, India and South East Asian countries. In the 19th century it was categorized as a viral disease and antiviral vaccine was found to cure smallpox. There were 50 million peoples were affected by smallpox worldwide as of 1950s. The latest outbreak was reported from European countries in 1970s.


Smallpox is preventable by taking acute care and following hygiene. Since there is no effective cure for this disease, it is advisable to consult with a physician when the symptoms arise. Never go for traditional treatments since these are found more deadly in advanced stage. During epidemics use protective clothing and nose mask while moving in public places. Smallpox is treatable with antiviral drugs and curable with in a month’s time.