Smallpox Vaccine

Written by Randall Neustaedter OMD, LAc, CCH   
Wednesday, 13 May 2009 12:29
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Excerpted from The Vaccine Guide: Risks and Benefits for Children and Adults, 2002, North Atlantic Books

Smallpox (or variola) has an infamous history as a dreaded contagious disease, and a deadly weapon of war. Unfortunately, the smallpox vaccine has a similar history. Smallpox arose from a relatively harmless rodent virus that became deadly when it jumped the species barrier to humans thousands of years ago. The oldest reference to the disease is in Egyptian records of 3700 B.C. Since that time, smallpox has killed hundreds of millions of people. The disease is especially devastating to cultures that have not been previously exposed. The native populations of North and South America were decimated by smallpox and war, reducing their numbers from 72 million when Columbus landed in 1492 to 600,000 by 1800 (Thornton, 1987).

Modern medicine has no effective treatment for this deadly virus. The fatality rate is about 30 percent in epidemics. The death rate is highest among those never vaccinated. In one review of 680 smallpox cases in Europe during the period 1950-1971, vaccination over 20 years prior to exposure reduced the death rate to 11 percent compared to about 50 percent in the unvaccinated (Mack, 1972). Smallpox was declared officially eliminated from the planet in 1980. Subsequently, the virus was maintained in government storage facilities, and developed as a weapon of war.


The only possible causes of smallpox disease now would be laboratory accidents, a mass release during wartime, or through terrorist acts. No one knows what a modern epidemic would be like, but experts fear the worst, partially because today's weapons-grade smallpox virus is designed to be lethal, and because the United States stopped routine smallpox vaccination in 1971.

Another similar pox virus does cause disease and deaths, termed human monkeypox when it was discovered in 1970 because the virus resembled a pox virus found in captive monkeys in 1958 (Mukinda et al., 1996). Monkeypox exists in rainforest villages of central and western Africa, where it is transferred through person-to-person contact. It causes the same symptoms as smallpox, and differs from smallpox virus only in its nucleotide sequences. Several outbreaks have occurred. In 1996, 71 cases were reported Katako-Kombe area in Zaire with four deaths. In one small village of 346 inhabitants, 42 cases were reported, including three deaths (WHO, 1996). By December of 1997 more than 500 cases of monkeypox were reported in Zaire. It is possible that smallpox has already made a comeback in this remote part of the world.


Smallpox Symptoms


Twelve days after exposure, smallpox begins with fever, tiredness, vomiting, and severe back pain. Within three days a rash develops on the face, then spreads to the trunk, arms, and legs. The victim is potentially contagious from the onset of symptoms until all eruptions have healed. The hardy virus is spread through droplets from the nose or mouth, which can even travel through ventilation systems to infect others. The skin lesions themselves are also contagious. Once the rash appears, the flat red eruptions develop into hardened pustules over the course of a week. These lesions can be felt as lumps under the skin. Thousands of these pustules may occur over the body, with swelling and generalized redness of the skin, and severe, fiery itching. The swollen face is often completely covered with lesions. On the eighth day of the eruption a dark spot appears on the pustule and then it opens, discharging pus, forming a scab, and then leaving a depressed scar, which is often permanent. Complete recovery usually occurs within three weeks.

However, in severe cases of the disease, fever begins again on day 11 with a rampant worsening of symptoms. Infections of the eye can cause blindness, fluids collect in the airways resulting in suffocation, sores and abscesses develop, and the body bloats and swells. An especially vicious form of smallpox results in bleeding from the skin lesions and internal organs, and frequently these patients die. It is during the second week that most deaths from smallpox occur.