Smallpox is a highly infectious and fatal disease caused by the Variola virus. It causes extremely painful pustules to sprout across the entire body. Spread from human to human, it has since been eradicated from the world through the efforts of the World Health Organization. However, there is a distinct possibility that it may be reintroduced through bioterrorism. Biological weapons may cause another pandemic to erupt across the world and kill millions of individuals. Through constant vigilance and careful planning, mankind can prevent this scenario.
During the course of human history, pandemic diseases have threatened the balance of civilization itself. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other infectious agents have changed the way we eat, sleep, and live our lives. One of these scourges was smallpox, a highly infectious and deadly disease that causes boils to sprout on the entire body. Once endemic to the entire world, it has been wiped out with mass vaccination efforts by the World Health Organization with the last reported case being in 1977 in Somalia (Tucker 118). The threat of the virus still looms over us, however, with the advent of the age of terrorism. Its transmission method (human to human), the lack of effective treatment, its high mortality rate, and its ease of weaponization has compelled the Centers for Disease Control to classify it as a Category A bioterrorist agent with the highest potential for use as a weapon against civilians (Ryan 41).
The smallpox disease is caused by the Variola virus, a virus of the Orthopox family, which also includes cowpox, monkeypox, and other related diseases (Tucker 5). Two variants
have appeared; Variola major, the more common and deadly form, and Variola minor, the milder and rarer version (Ryan 55). Variola is a double stranded DNA virus named from the Latin word for stained or mark on the skin because of its characteristic pustules. It is stable outside the host, allowing it to infect large populations when aerosolized (Ryan 55). There are four forms of smallpox caused by Variola major: ordinary, modified, flat, and hemorrhagic (Ryan 57). The ordinary form is a typical case where pustules remain distinct from one another. The modified form is one where the symptoms are less severe, usually due to vaccination. Flat smallpox is a form where the pustules are almost always flush with the skin. These cases are highly fatal. The hemorrhagic form causes bleeding under the skin, creating a black color. The victim usually dies before pustules can form. Variola minor causes a fairly mild form of smallpox called alastrim, which is rarely fatal. There is no cure for smallpox available, though antiviral drugs are being actively developed by the various research institutions, including the National Institutes of Health. If the individual is exposed to smallpox and has not developed symptoms, the vaccine may be administered to decrease chance of contracting the disease and to...