Smallpox is a contagious, disfiguring, and often fatal disease that has affected humans for thousands of years. Natural smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1980 – the result of an unprecedented global vaccination campaign.
Smallpox virus samples were saved for research. Advances in synthetic biology have made it possible to generate smallpox from published amino acid sequences. This has raised fears that smallpox will one day be used as a biological weapon.
Smallpox pustules cover the trunk of the body
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The first symptoms of smallpox usually appear 10 to 14 days after infection. During the incubation period of seven to 17 days, you will look healthy and will not become infected.
After the incubation period, flu-like signs and symptoms suddenly appear. These include:
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Smallpox is caused by infection with the variola virus. The virus can be transmitted:
Directly from person to person. Direct transmission of the virus requires prolonged face-to-face contact. The virus can be transmitted through airborne droplets that escape when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
Indirectly from an infected person. In rare cases, the airborne virus can spread further, possibly through a building’s ventilation system, and infect people in other rooms or on different floors.
About contaminated objects. Smallpox can also be transmitted through contact with contaminated clothing and bedding, although the risk of infection from this sources is less common.
Most people with smallpox survive. However, some rare species of smallpox are almost always fatal. These more severe forms most commonly affect pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
People who recover from smallpox usually have severe scars, especially on the face, arms, and legs. In some cases, smallpox can cause blindness.