Smallpox is an ancient and very deadly disease. Scientists think that smallpox first started around 10,000 B.C. in Africa. They also think that it spread from Africa to India by Egyptian merchants. Scientists have studied the mummy of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V., who died in 1156 B.C., and they think that he had smallpox. Smallpox was also known to be in China in 1122 B.C. There are also writings from India around that same time that mention smallpox. Smallpox is the only disease to ever be eradicated, which means it is no longer around. The last person to have it was in Somalia in 1977.
Smallpox first appeared in Europe between the 5th and 7th centuries and was common in the Middle Ages. There was an epidemic of smallpox around the time that the Roman Empire began to fall, which was around 108 A.D. This epidemic was known as the “plague of Antonine” and killed about 7 million people. Smallpox was a really big cause of the falls of the Aztec Empire in Mexico and the Inca Empire in Peru. It was brought to North America by early settlers, and killed a lot of Native Americans. In the 18th century, around 400,000 people in the world died each year from smallpox. About 30% of people who were infected with the major kind of smallpox died. The rate was higher for babies in the 1800s; about 80 to 90% of infected babies died. About one-third of the people who got sick, but survived, went blind because of blisters on their eyes. People who did survive had very bad scars on their bodies, including their faces. In England in the 18th century, they called smallpox “the speckled monster.”
During the French and Indian was in the 18th century, British soldiers used smallpox as a biological weapon. They gave blankets from people who had been sick with smallpox to the Native Americans. Up to 50% of the people in some tribes died from the disease. The slave trade also helped spread smallpox to America. Many slaves were brought here from parts of Africa where smallpox was common.
Smallpox killed both rich and poor people; it didn’t choose. Some well-known people who had it were President Andrew Jackson and President Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Jackson got it when he was 14, while he was a British prisoner during the American Revolution. His brother was a prisoner with him and died from smallpox. Abraham Lincoln got sick right after he gave his famous speech, “The Gettysburg Address.” He was sick for almost four weeks and survived, but one of his servants did not.
Smallpox is caused by the variola virus. It is in the family of viruses called Poxviridae. There are two kinds of variola virus, variola major and variola minus. Variola major is much more severe than variola minor and kills about 30% of people who are infected. Variola minor kills between 1 and 5% of those infected. Smallpox does not infect any animals except humans and people or animals cannot just carry the disease. Smallpox is spread by face-to-face contract. It can also be spread through the bed...