In 1798 British doctor Edward Jenner was able to demonstrate that inoculation with cowpox virus could protect a person against contracting smallpox.
Jenner, after noting that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox, theorized that the pus in the blisters the milkmaids received from cowpox protected them from smallpox. He tested this hypothesis on May 14, 1796 on a young boy named James Phipps. He first inoculated the boy with the pus from a cowpox blister, and then some time later injected Phipps with the variola virus. When the child did not contract smallpox, Jenner again injected him with variola. Again - no smallpox. Finally, there was hope that this devastating illness could be controlled!
Over the next century and a half, smallpox vaccination worked to effectively eradicate the disease in the US and Europe. In 1972 the United States discontinued routine vaccination of children. Most European counties also discontinued their programs around the same time. The routine vaccination of U.S. healthcare workers was halted in 1976. By 1986 all countries had discontinued routine vaccination, and vaccination of U.S. military recruits was discontinued in 1990.
Presently, only certain laboratory workers and members of the military deploying to the Middle East and Korea still receive the vaccinations.
In 1967 the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a massive campaign to eradicate smallpox around the world. The program was hugely successful, and the last naturally occuring case of variola major was detected in a two-year old Bangladeshi girl, Rahima Banu, in October 1975. The last documented case of variola minor was diagnosed in Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Merca, Somalia, in October 1977. The very last case diagnosed was that of a laboratory-acquired case in the UK in 1978. Unfortunately, that case proved fatal.
In December 1979 a commission of scientists certified the global eradication of smallpox. This certification was subsequently endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980. At the same time, the WHO recommended the cessation of routine vaccination in all countries and called for any remaining virus sample to be sent to two WHO laboratories for storage. One laboratory was located in the United States and the other in Russia.
Since 1980, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not the last remaining samples of the smallpox virus should be killed. Many scientists urge the destruction of this killer disease, while others feel that the samples should be preserved in case of a future need to study and/or duplicate it.
Smallpox and Terrorism
Soon after the WHO declaration that the disease was eradicated, reports were issued stating that Russia had started a program of producing the smallpox virus for possible future production of biological weapons. Since that time it has been theorized that many other countries may also still hold samples of the vaccine.
Scientists have stated that the easiest way to spread smallpox at this time would be through the development of an aerosol form of the virus. As routine vaccinations have not been given in more than 30 years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States has indicated that very few people would have an immunity to variola. As a result, it would likely take only a relatively small number of cases (less than 100) to create a modern-day smallpox pandemic.
Smallpox- the Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer
This spellbinding book is Dr. Henderson's personal story of how he led the World Health Organization's campaign to eradicate smallpox the only disease in history to have been deliberately eliminated. Some have called this feat the greatest scientific and humanitarian achievement of the past century.
The Demon in the Freezer
In The Demon in the Freezer, his first nonfiction book since The Hot Zone, a #1 New York Times bestseller, Richard Preston takes us into the heart of Usamriid, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, once the headquarters of the U.S. biological weapons program and now the epicenter of national biodefense.
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