Would your family survive an outbreak of smallpox? In the 1950s, there was a reported 50 million cases worldwide each year. Today, smallpox has been “eradicated,” but that doesn’t mean that we are safe from infection.
The first smallpox vaccination was developed in 1796, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the World Health Organization (WHO) coordinated a global effort to eradicate the disease. Spurred by the death of over two million infected individuals in 1968, WHO began to catalog and contain outbreaks of smallpox. By 1979, they declared smallpox eliminated once and for all.
However, that statement isn’t altogether true. In various laboratories around the world, smallpox lives on. After September 11, 2001, the U.K. and U.S. began to stockpile smallpox vaccines in preparation for a bioterrorist attack. In the historical photos below, you’ll see just how devastating that kind of attack would be.
Brace yourself. The photos of these smallpox victims are jarring.
Before the eradication of smallpox in 1979, there were anywhere from 20 to 50 million reported cases each year.
The first symptoms of smallpox are much like the flu, and may include anything from fever and muscles pain to nausea and vomiting. By days 12 to 15, painful lesions, known as macules, begin to appear on the skin.
Once infected, chances of survival are low, especially for children. While 20 to 60 percent of infected adults died before the vaccine was developed, over 80 percent of children succumbed to the disease. In the 20th century alone, smallpox is estimated to have been responsible for as many as 500 million deaths.
Terrifyingly, however, Western governments have prepared for bioterrorist smallpox attacks. They claim there are enough vaccines stored to protect “everyone who would need it in the event of an emergency.”
Although meant to be comforting, the elimination of the smallpox vaccine leaves a lot of unanswered questions: Would children be strong enough to survive the disease? How many people would be unnecessarily infected during the seven to 17 days of smallpox incubation time? Would those in rural areas or the developing world have access to vaccines?