Smallpox

Small pox patient

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Overview of smallpox

A few microbial diseases used to be a major threat in the past few decades, but have apparently disappeared in the recent years. But global health organizations are not yet sure whether those pathogens still exist in the environment in dormant form or not. In such cases, adequate measures need to be adopted before any unexpected epidemic outbreak occurs. A very common disease belonging to this category is “smallpox”. In the recent years, the occurrence of smallpox has not been observed. Still, proper knowledge of the disease is necessary in order to handle any unexpected occurrence at any point in time.

 

What is smallpox?

Small pox rashesSmallpox is a form of a communicable viral disease which is mediated by the Variola virus which exists in close association with the human population.  

This virus is a part of the Orthopoxvirus genus, which belongs to the Poxviridiae family Smallpox is usually manifested as elevated bumps all over the skin, which leave permanent scars after complete healing.

Smallpox can lead to serious epidemic outbreaks that may result in millions of fatalities all over the world. Adequate immunizations are necessary to eradicate smallpox completely.

 

What causes smallpox?

Smallpox is primarily mediated through two viral species, all belonging to the Poxviridiae family. The causative agents of smallpox are listed below-

  • Variola Major: It causes the more severe form of smallpox manifested through high fever and reddish, itchy skin rashes. Death cases due to Variola Major were reported as 20-40%. Variola Major has four distinct variants. These are-
  • Ordinary Variola Major: It has a mortality rate of 90% or more.
  • Mild Variola Major: It attacks previously vaccinated people as well. But the symptoms are mild and the mortality rates are not so high.
  • Flat Variola Major: It usually causes a lethal form of smallpox.
  • Haemorrhagic Variola Major: As the name implies, it causes internal bleeding and in many cases is fatal in nature.
  • Variola Minor: It is a relatively benign form of the Variola species and accounts for 1% or fewer fatalities.

 

Transmission route of smallpox

Smallpox is extremely contagious in nature and can spread through direct or indirect contact with the infected person. Following are the main transmission mediums of smallpox-

  • Direct contact with respiratory droplets of the infected person via coughing and sneezing
  • Sharing common items of use such as utensils, bed-sheets, towels or cosmetics
  • Direct contact with the smallpox blisters (and fluids discharged from the blisters) of the infected person while dressing them
  • Touching objects used by the infected person and putting the hand on the face or inside the mouth without washing hands

Humans are the primary hosts of smallpox. It has to be noted in this context that smallpox infections spread from human to human directly without the mediation of animals or other insects. The patients may spread infection even after 7-10 days of separation of the smallpox scabs.

 

Pathophysiology or stages of smallpox

Small pox patientSmallpox progresses within the human body through few consecutive stages, which can be discussed according to the stage of infection. The pathological phases of smallpox infections are described below-

  • The Variola virus is primarily acquired via inhalation. The incubation period of this virus ranges from 10-14 days. In the first stage, it invades the lungs. Gradually it invades the mucosal linings and progresses towards the lymph nodes, wherein it starts multiplying. After 2-3 days the virus enters the circulating blood and gets transferred to the spleen, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. The second phase of multiplication begins at this stage. At the end of this stage, the virus invades the leukocytes and later on spreads to the lungs, kidneys, and brain. Fever and toxemia are observed at this stage.
  • The second stage is called the pre-eruptive stage. It lasts for 2-6 days and is characterized by high fever, severe headache, back pain and pain in the limbs. Nausea and vomiting may result, accompanied by intermittent chills.
  • The third stage is called the eruptive stage, wherein macules (flattened red eruptions), vesicles (elevated lesions) and pustules (pus-filled blisters) appear on the skin (mainly on the face and trunk). This stage lasts for 4-6 days.
  • In the next phase, which is called the discharge phase, the vesicles, papules, and pustules burst and release the virus-containing fluid. Most of the smallpox infections spread in this stage.
  • In the final phase, the blisters become completely dried up and form crusty scales called scabs. These scabs finally peel off leaving deep scars on the skin.

 

Symptoms of smallpox

Smallpox is usually manifested through certain specific symptoms which are discussed according to the stages of infection-

  • Pre-eruptive symptoms: The pre-eruptive symptoms include fever, general body ache, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Early rashes: Small reddish spots appear on the tongue and inner linings of mouth. The rashes develop into contagious sores and fluid-filled blisters. The fluid is discharged at a later stage, releasing the virus into the body. Rashes also appear on the skin, which later on grows into fluid-filled blisters. Scabs are formed once these blisters get dried up.
  • Resolving scabs: The pustules and papules stay for a few days and release a purulent discharge. Crusty scabs are formed after this, which fall off within a few days. Pigmented or non-pigmented scars are formed after complete healing.

 

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of smallpox is usually done after collecting the fluids from the pustules and vesicles. Examination of the smallpox virus is usually done under an electron microscope, wherein clustered virus particles called Guarnieri bodies are found.

 

Treatment & Prevention

Small pox vaccinationAt present, no treatment modality had been devised for smallpox. The treatment aims to provide symptomatic relief and prevention of dehydration. In case, the infected individual develops an infection on the skin or the lungs, an antibiotic course can be prescribed to manage the infection.

The disease can be prevented by means of a vaccine. The response of the individual to the vaccine may vary based on the time of administration of the vaccine.

The vaccine protects an individual from getting sick if administered before the contact with the virus. If given within 3 days of exposure to the virus, there are possibilities of not getting the disease. However, even if the individual gets sick, the severity of the disease is quite less. If the vaccine is given within 4 to 7 days of exposure to the virus, the severity of the disease is less as compared to an unvaccinated individual. The smallpox vaccine cannot render protection after the development of the smallpox rash.

 

Facts

  • The smallpox vaccine cannot render protection after the development of the smallpox rash.
  • As per the World Health Organization, even one confirmed case of smallpox can be considered an international health emergency.
  • Smallpox is considered to be one of the world’s most devastating diseases known to the human race.

Facts

  • The last known case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in the year 1977.
  • Smallpox was declared eradicated by the World Health Assembly on the 8th of May 1980, after a global campaign of surveillance and vaccination.

Facts

  • Smallpox is the only infectious disease of humans that got eradicated by deliberate intervention.
  • On an average, death was observed in 3 out of 10 individuals who were infected by the smallpox virus.

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Consult your doctor if you observe symptoms such as fever, chills, skin rashes, breathing problems etc.
  • Get vaccinated if you are at high risk of getting exposed to the infection.
  • Infected individuals and those exposed to the virus should be kept in isolation.
  • Wear gloves and mask in case you are attending an infected patient.
Don'ts
  • Come in direct contact with the infected patient. Maintain standard hygiene protocols. Use anti-microbial soaps to wash hands after a physical contact with an infected individual.
  • Sneeze or cough with your face uncovered. Maintain personal hygiene.
  • Travel or move around a lot if you are infected with the virus. Avoid the spread of the virus.

 

 

 

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7 startling facts that will make you quit alcohol today Does drinking really make you friendly and happy? How many calories does a can of cold beer add…
lose weight fast
12 easy and instant steps to successful weight loss Do you want to lose weight without losing your mind? Does weight loss always mean saying goodbye to…
improve digestion weight loss
Power up your gut: 8 proven steps on how to improve your digestion Did you know you have a colony of bacteria in your gut that help you in digesting food?…
nutritional yeast bread
Nutritional Yeast : How can a fungi culture be good for your body? Nutritional yeast: How a simple culture of fungi can transform your skin, digestion, immunity , and much more.…
liver cleanse detox
14 go-to foods that are best for a complete natural liver detox Liver cleanse can be achieved by just choosing or avoiding certain types of food. Liver itself is a detoxifying…
EEG
Electroencephalogram – EEG EEG or electroencephalogram is a diagnostic tool used to access the functioning of neurons and brain activity to…
LFT-test
Liver Function Test – LFT LFT or Liver Function Test is a blood test used to determine the levels of hepatic enzymes which…
free psa test
Free PSA Test The free PSA test is used to detect the level or percentage of free PSA in the body…
sleep deprivation
Don’t let your sleep deficit grow into memory loss or heart attack Why is sleep important for us? How could sleep deprivation harm you? We bet you didn't know about…
Jack in the box fast food
Jack In the Box : The perils of surging fast food culture in the USA Jack in the Box - How a culture of fast-food can clog your arteries, weaken your heart, fatten…
avocado benefits
Avocado: 15 reasons why this fruit should be a staple in your diet Did you know that the word avocado literally means "testicles". Don't get grossed out as this power-packed fruit…
Cottage cheese: What can you find in this healthy chunk of fresh milk cheese? Love cheese but scared of putting on extra pounds? With cottage cheese, you can get the best of…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
General adaptation syndrome: Understanding stress, one step at a time The struggle of the body to produce hormones during a stressful situation is the main theme of general…
Inversion Therapy: The anti-gravity way of healing chronic back pain Inversion therapy involves suspending a person upside dow using different types of equipment. This works by taking the…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
sodium chloride
Halotherapy: How inhaling salt can work wonders for your body Halotherapy is quickly gaining popularity amongst those with respiratory diseases. It has shown promise in its treatment.
How to scrub away stress and fatigue with an Epsom salt bath? Epsom salt is a popular home remedy for many skin ailments. Though there is a lack of scientific…
11 unbelievable health benefits of thyme you didn’t know! Thyme is a herb that has been used in alternative medicine.It is a well known seasoning in the…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
phenytoin test
Phenytoin test Phenytoin is a drug that is administered mainly to epilepsy patients. The phenytoin blood test measures the level…
AHBC Igm
Anti-Hepatitis B Core Antigen (AHBc) IgM Anti-hepatitis B core antigen (AHBC) IgM is an investigative procedure to detect the presence of IgM antibodies in…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
piles fissure fistula
Allopathy vs homeopathy vs ayurveda treatment for piles, fissures, and fistula Read to know the best form of treatment among allopathy, homeopathy,or ayurveda for piles, fissures, and fistula
Optavia diet
The features of an Optavia diet The Optavia diet endorses pre-packaged meals and snacks called "fuelings" that are tasty, low in calorie, and incorporates…