Smallpox: what it is, symptoms and treatment. How to prevent?


What is Smallpox?

Smallpox is an infectious, contagious and serious disease. It is caused by a virus known as Orthopoxvirus variolae. This virus is characterized by being one of the largest ever seen, with approximately 300 nanometers.

Smallpox is believed to have been purposely introduced by Hernán Cortés’s army to defeat the native civilizations of Pre-Colombian America. Smallpox was a major contributor to the decimation of the population born in America after being imported from Europe with Colombo.

The first recorded case in Brazil occurred in 1563, killing several people, mainly the Indians.

The disease is not so worrying anymore and is not so widespread, because in 1967 a very large campaign by the World Health Organization (WHO) was launched that aimed to eradicate the disease through vaccination. The last case occurred in Somalia in 1977.

Although the disease has no cure, it can be prevented through the vaccination campaign that occurred only in 1967. Studies of the vaccine have been carried out since 1796, but it was only applied to the population after being perfected over time.

This disease has affected people for over 10,000 years. There are cases of mummies that have characteristics of the disease.

Causes and types

Smallpox exists in two different types: the largest and the smallest.

  • The largest can be fatal. It can happen in people who have not been immunized.
  • The youngest has an infection with symptoms, but the chances of death are minimal.

The biggest cause of the disease is transmission and it can occur in three ways:

  • For contaminated items, such as clothes, sheets, glasses, cutlery.
  • Directly from the infected person. Transmission occurs through droplets that occur after speaking, coughing or sneezing.
  • Indirectly through an infected person. Orthopoxvirus can spread through the air, or through the ventilation system.

Risk factors

Nowadays there are no more risks of contracting the disease, because in the 1970s a mega WHO campaign was carried out and the disease was eradicated from the world. However, the viruses still exist and are kept at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, United States, and also in Koltsovo, Russia, at the State Center for Virology and Biotechnology Research.

The storage of viruses causes some concern because it is a biological weapon, especially for younger people who have not been vaccinated against the disease, as there are no more cases.

There are different opinions about whether viruses should be kept or not, but actions have not been taken so far and they are still stored in laboratories.

Smallpox Symptoms

The symptoms of the disease used to appear between the 12th and the 14th day after the infection happened in the patient’s body, due to the virus incubation time, which was 10 to 14 days. After three weeks of the incubation period, the patient was able to transmit smallpox. The onset of symptoms is very similar to flu , including fever , headache , body pain and tiredness .

Over time, the symptoms increase and worsen, and may appear:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Convulsion and delirium.
  • Blisters containing pus. They start with the mouth and then spread to the entire body causing a lot of pain and itching.
  • Over time, blisters burst and ulcers may appear, forming crusts on the skin.

As the patient’s immune system is very low, the bubbles that appear in the mouth can be spread quickly to the rest of the body. Also due to low immunity, blindness can occur because the cornea is affected and if, if bronchopneumonia occurs, the patient is at risk of death.


Since the symptoms at the beginning are very general, the disease would be very difficult to identify. It would be easily noticed after painful pus blisters appeared on the body. Tests would be needed to confirm and also to rule out the possibility of chicken pox , eczema , scabies and allergic reactions.

If a smallpox case were identified it would be enough for the entire world to be on the alert and become an international health emergency.

What is the treatment for Smallpox?

There is no specific drug to treat smallpox. Antibiotics can be used to control infectious conditions. If a smallpox case arises, and it is identified within 4 days after exposure of the virus, the vaccine can be administered and problems can be minimized or even avoided.

If smallpox is diagnosed, people who have come into contact with the infected person should be vaccinated, isolated and monitored.

There are two drugs that can be used in case of smallpox, they are:

  • Clordox.
  • Doxycycline .

However, the doctor is the one who will give the diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment to the patient.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.


Smallpox can become serious health problems, such as:

  • Pneumonia.
  • Encephalitis.
  • Arthritis and bone infections.
  • Scar formation.
  • Skin infections.
  • Intense bleeding.
  • And even lead to death.

How to prevent smallpox

Prevention is no longer done because the complications as well as the side effects outweigh the benefits, and the cost is very high. Because the vaccine was distributed years ago, smallpox was controlled.


The disease, as it was eradicated years ago, brings some personalities who suffered from smallpox:

  • The composer Ludwig Van Beethoven;
  • King Louis XV of France;
  • Maria II, who was Queen of England in the 17th century;
  • Mestre Vitalino, artisan from northeastern Brazil, in 1963;
  • The emperor of China, from 1638 to 1661;
  • Ana de Cleves, Queen of England;
  • José, Prince of Brazil;
  • Abraham Lincoln, former president of the United States;
  • Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union.

There are rumors that the disease may reoccur thanks to climate change. The Siberian plain, which is covered with ice for much of the year, is called permafrost and, there, more than 100 years ago, several smallpox victims were buried in the surface layers.

The fear is due to the ice that has been melting more and more during the summer of the Northern Hemisphere (June to September), leaving the bodies exposed and vulnerable to transmit the disease.

Although the disease is no longer common, it is important to know about it in case it comes back as an outbreak and you know how to act, along with the doctors who will treat the problem.

Share with your friends if you discovered something new by reading this article. Consulta Remédios is always available to answer your questions!