Ah, smallpox. This post is probably improperly titled, because if you’ve ever bothered to study about smallpox, you probably know these things. But if you haven’t, these will come as a shock, especially in the shocking and eloquent way I present them. Because I’m a shocking medical reporter, of course.
Smallpox may have been around since 10,000 BC. The mummified remains of Ramses V had what looked like the mummified evidence of smallpox. He died in 1157 BC. He probably died of smallpox.
Lots of other historical figures met their match with smallpox, a disease that causes raised (most of the time, anyway), fluid-filled blisters all over the skin. Cuitlahuac, an Aztec ruler, died of the disease in 1520. Incan ruler Huayna Capac died of smallpox in 1527, Czar Peter II of Russia died of smallpox in 1720.
Other famous folks had smallpox but lived – George Washington, Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, Andrew Jackson, Stalin, Ferenc Kolcsey, and Abraham Lincoln all had smallpox and survived. Some had scarring. Some lost eyeballs. Some were a-ok.
Reportedly, smallpox has been eradicated by humans. With all the boneheaded stuff we do, go humans for figuring that one out!
Because humans are mostly boneheaded, many different governments have considered using smallpox as a weapon. The British indeed used it during the French and Indian Wars, giving infected blankets to the enemy, and supposedly the smallpox was a weapon during the Revolutionary War. World War II saw scientists crafting weapons out of the disease, and the last group to monkey around with the germs were in the Soviet government in the 1990s. Stay away from that stuff!
There is more than one type of smallpox. The normal kind is the bumpy kind you’ve seen pictures of above. The other kinds are more rare, and therefore more deadly. The breakdown goes like this:
ordinary smallpox – 30% chance of dying from it
ordinary type-confluent – 50-75% chance of dying from it
ordinary type semi-confluent – 25-50% of dying from it
flat type – 90% chance of dying from it
hemorrhagic type – pretty much 100% chance of dying from it
You can look up the symptoms of those last two. Ew.
Nowadays, only people going to the Middle East and Korea get vaccinated.
In its heyday, the disease killed about 400,000 Europeans per year in the late 1700s, and blinded a bunch of people. As late as 1967 about 15 million people caught smallpox, and 2 million died from it. Just 12 years later, the World Health Organization would declare the disease eradicated.