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Woo-hoo! None of us have had smallpox, and likely never will thanks to vaccines! Smallpox is an extremely infectious viral disease which has a characteristic rash, causes high fever, and kills approximately one-third of all those infected. It is a devastating biological weapon, which had a significant effect on depleting the Native American population when it was introduced purposefully by British explorers who distributed infected blankets in the hope of weakening the native people’s resistance to colonisation. Both the USA and Russia hold secure stocks of the virus in case it ever comes in handy.
In 1770 an English doctor, Edward Jenner, learnt that a milkmaid believed herself to be protected from smallpox since she had previously been infected by cowpox. 26 years later Jenner tested the milkmaid’s theory by inoculating an 8-year-old boy with matter from a cowpox sore and, the following week, attempting to infect the boy with a human strain of fresh smallpox. The young boy remained healthy. The term vaccination stems from the Latin word “vacca”, meaning cow.
Following Jenner’s success vaccinations against smallpox became mandatory in a number of countries, and in 1980 the World Health Assembly declared the world free from smallpox.