Smallpox as a health hazard

The last case of smallpox (Variola) was documented in Somalia in the late 1970s. In 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global smallpox eradication campaign after a runaway smallpox epidemic broke out in Europe. Since the smallpox vaccine is associated with strong risks, the vaccination requirement in Germany was lifted in the following decade again. On 8 May 1980, WHO declared the world free of smallpox.

Smallpox epidemics worldwide

Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, smallpox, also called pox, led to the death of about 70 percent of the infected. The survivors were disfigured or suffered from complications such as paralysis, blindness and deafness. The first exact description of the disease comes from Arabia (about 900 AD).

But many centuries before smallpox was known. This is attested by traditions dating to 1500 bc. from China. With the Spanish conquerors, the smallpox came to America and were responsible for the downfall of the Inca and Aztecs - it is said to have given over three million deaths. Even famous men like Stalin, Beethoven or Mozart suffered from smallpox.

Illnesses of smallpox

The poxvirus is transmitted after 8 to 14 days of incubation by droplet and smear infections, for example via sneezing or clothing. The highly complex viruses protect their DNA, ie their genetic information, with a very resistant protein coat. The dangerous real smallpox start like a flu with fever and body aches as well as bronchitis and run cold.

After about two days comes rash added. The fever initially recedes, only to rise again and again, infected people suffer from delirium and disorientation.

At first almost all over the body develop pale red spots that itch and swell to knots. They will scab up on pustules of the vesicles, which will later dry out, they itch and then form scars. Between 20 and 50 percent of patients die.

A very severe form of smallpox are the "black leaves" (variola haemorrhogica): the skin, mucous membranes and internal organs bleed, after a few days most patients die.

The white smallpox (Variola minor), however, run much less violent, the death rate is one to five percent - but it is not immune to infection with the smallpox after infection with white smallpox.


The first positive attempts to obtain a vaccine against the virus came to the English physician E. Jenner in 1798. He carried out his experiments under the father's permission to a small boy by first injecting him with a small dose of animal pox. After the infection healed he tried the injection of human morbid smallpox - with success.

Since from 1975 in Germany no smallpox vaccinations have taken place, all later born are completely unprotected. But even the vaccinated, so the doctors suspect, no longer adequate vaccine protection, since the vaccinations have to be refreshed every five to ten years.

In a vaccination in the upper arm, there is only at this point a skin reaction with pustules, which usually heals without complications. But there is also vaccine damage: statistically dies one in 800, 000 vaccinated persons, with an immunization of all 80 million Germans, there would be 100 dead. Serious vaccine damage such as meningitis would hit several hundred people.

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