As a parent, you are probably worried about your child contracting various illnesses. One of them that could be a childhood disease is smallpox.
While smallpox is a disease that children may contact, not giving it proper medical attention can lead to lifelong scarring, and even turn fatal. Understanding the causes and symptoms and knowing about the various treatment options can be a good way to control smallpox in its inception stage.
What Is Smallpox – A Brief History:
Smallpox is thought to have originated in ancient agrarian communities in Africa from whence it spread via Egypt to India and the rest of the world. The virus is thought to have mutated from an animal-based format to one that attacks humans. There are records of cases of smallpox dating back to more than 12,000 years. It was brought to Europe and other continents by traders and conquerors who traveled frequently between different countries and carried the virus with them. Millions of people have died from small
The English scientist Edward Jenner was the first person to create a vaccine for smallpox in the 18th century. He discovered that exposure to a similar virus (cow-pox) gave immunity to agricultural communities in rural England. Large-scale vaccination and immunization, better hygiene and awareness, isolating and identifying the virus early in its onset etc. provided good results.
Smallpox is the first disease to be completely eradicated in the world through widespread vaccination. Currently it is the only disease to have been effectively removed from humans. The last reported case was in 1977 in Somalia.
Smallpox is highly contagious. Its scars last throughout the victim’s lifetime and it can also cause blindness in case the eyes are affected. Death occurs due to toxemia and internal bleeding. There is no known cure for the disease and all treatment can only be symptomatic to ease pain and suffering.
[ Read: Causes Of Blindness In Kids ]
Causes Of Smallpox:
Smallpox was a disease that typically attacked young adults and children. It was highly contagious and smallpox epidemics were common in earlier times.
- The disease is caused by the Variola virus. There are two strains of the Variola virus: major and minor.
- The major strain is the more virulent one, and occurs in people who have not been vaccinated. It can be life-threatening.
- The minor strain is a milder form and rarely results in death.
There are four important subtypes of the variola major virus:
The last two forms are rare and always fatal.
Variola minor also has four subtypes. These are:
- Variola sine eruptione
These forms are milder and may occur in people who have been previously immunized. Only in very rare cases do they result in death.
Breeding And Spreading:
The disease can occur in any place and under any climatic conditions. However, the virus thrives best under cool, dry conditions, especially during the early spring and late autumn months in Europe and the Americas, or in the dry, winter season in Asia and Australia.
Smallpox is classified as a droplet infection. This means it spreads via liquids and body fluids. The most common form of infection is via saliva droplets, infected bed-linen, clothes, towels, etc. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus is expelled violently and finds its way to other victims.
This is why smallpox is highly contagious within families. Studies have shown that a single infected person can transmit the disease very easily to more than 60% of those he or she comes into contact with. The disease is most contagious during the first week of infection or the incubation stage. However, it remains contagious during the entire duration of the attack, right till the time the scabs begin to fall.
Under favorable conditions, the virus is able to stay potent for more than 24 hours. In non-favorable conditions, it can still stay alive for about six hours, making it one of the most tenacious viruses known to man. However, modern studies have shown that the virus does not survive release by aerosol for more than 24 hours, especially in the presence of ultraviolet light. Since it is a virus, it remains immune to anti-biotic. Any treatment can only be undertaken to keep the patient comfortable, dehydrated and tackle the secondary issues of septicemia and toxemia.
At present only a few laboratories have live strains of smallpox virus and as such, laboratory workers may be at risk. The virus is also the subject of huge ethical controversy as it is being kept alive by certain countries to unleash bio-terrorism if required.
Since the early 1970s, general immunization of people against smallpox has been discontinued.
Symptoms of Smallpox:
The virus begins to show symptoms only some two weeks after infection has entered the body. Smallpox symptoms typically include:
- Body aches
- Back ache
- High fever with delirium
- Severe headache and vomiting
[ Read: Diarrhea In Children ]
These are easily confused with many other illnesses and unless there has been another case in the vicinity, the symptoms are indistinguishable from those occurring in other common diseases.
- Only when the characteristic raised pink rashes appear, some 24 to 48 hours later, can the final diagnosis can be made. The rashes appear all over the body, but typically on the legs, face, arms and mouth.
- These soon begin to form crusts in about a week’s time. The rash spreads throughout the entire body. In severe cases, the patient may be afflicted with internal rashes. Severe internal bleeding and toxemia cause death, usually within the second week of full-blown symptoms appearing.
- The lesions begin to spread all over the body and continue in the same stage of development. This is unlike chicken pox, where new lesions keep occurring while the old lesions dry up. In case the patient survives, the disease leaves typical deep, pitted scars wherever the lesions had occurred and these last throughout life.
- It infects the skin, liver, kidneys, spleen, etc. Fatalities occur because of toxemia and the body’s reaction to the overwhelming number of viruses that enter the body. One of the reasons why scientists have been able to contain this virus is the fact that it attacks only humans.
- It can easily be mistaken for chicken pox, but the difference is that the chicken-pox rashes are spread across the upper body and trunk, while smallpox rashes are seen across the face, legs and arms.